From the field

A round-up of some of the work under way by IUCN regional offices on ecosystem valuation and investment.

From the field Photo: ©

Climate change is already affecting people who live on islands and in low lying areas. In small island countries such as in the Pacific, many people rely on healthy ecosystems to provide flood control. But when landscapes are altered, such as by draining mangrove wetlands for farmland, or clearing forests to make way for agriculture on steep slopes, normal ecosystem functions are disrupted and the risk of flooding increases. In 2009, Fiji suffered from extreme flooding which seriously affected the island’s sugarcane belt and all those who depend on it.

A study by IUCN Oceania on the economic costs of the floods showed that the vulnerability of local communities is determined not only by the nature and intensity of the hazards, but also by factors such as the condition of local ecosystems, the nature of the farm production system and the health of the industry. The damage caused by the flooding to both farming and urban communities was the result of a complex interaction of physical, geographic, economic and human development characteristics.

Economic losses in the sugar belt alone, the study reported, was almost $FJ 24 million, costs borne by the farming families, sugar processors and the government. The study estimated that almost 50% of the flood-affected farmers would, at least in the short term, fall into poverty, while at least 25% of them would be unable to meet their basic nutritional needs.

“Many sugarcane farming families in the short run had to choose between feeding their families or paying for bus fares for children to go to school,” says Dr Padma Narsey Lal, Chief Technical Adviser at IUCN’s Oceania Regional Office. “The Fijian sugarcane industry suffered major losses from the floods when it could ill afford to bear them, having recently seen the last of the reductions in the European Union import price subsidy under the Cotonou, and its predecessor, Lome Agreement.”

In Burkina Faso, economic valuation is under way to improve rural development policy in Sourou Valley. This is one of the country’s most important wetlands but is also under great pressure for agriculture.
A lack of information on the full economic value of this ecosystem could lead to the misuse of natural resources in the region. Until now, much attention has been given to agricultural production on the premise that this will increase food security among local communities and in Burkina Faso as a whole. But more than 20 years after significant investment began, the expected ‘green revolution’ has not materialized. Yet communities still rely on other ecosystem goods and services for their livelihood and income. In an effort to demonstrate the broader range of benefits provided by this wetland ecosystem, IUCN conducted an economic valuation of Sourou Valley’s natural resource base.

The area was estimated to have a total annual value of about €15 million, of which timber for fuelwood and housing accounted for 37%; non timber forest products 21%; pasture resources 18%; fishery and river transport 10% each; crop production 3%; and tourism 1%. The study revealed that crop production is not the region’s major economic benefit, despite the level of investment since 1970.

“Field surveys also revealed that current agricultural practices are threatening ecosystem services such as flood control and climate regulation which may compromise the Valley’s other economic values. These results call for greater caution in rural development policies in the absence of full economic information,” says Jacques Somda, Programme Coordinator at IUCN’s Central and West Africa Regional Office.

The Laguna Lachuá National Park in northern Guatemala and the 55 communities around the lagoon catchment area make up the Lachuá Eco Region which supports rich biodiversity. The majority of the people here are indigenous Maya-Q’eqchí. In Lachuá, IUCN helped establish an alliance of local stakeholders and organizations, FUNDALACHUA. The alliance is promoting the conservation of natural resources in the Eco region through projects on reforestation, forest management, local handicrafts and tourism, all aimed at diversifying income sources in the region.

We are now building on the achievements of the FUNDALACHUA to tap new markets for ecosystem services, particularly by accounting for the region’s carbon values,” explains José-Arturo Santos of IUCN’s Regional Offi ce for Meso America. “In the coming years, carbon could represent an additional income source for the local population, while also helping the national government to develop policies to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD).”

Contact information:

Padma Lal, Chief Technical Adviser at IUCN’s Oceania Regional Office:
Jacques Somda, Programme Coordinator at IUCN’s Central and West Africa Regional Office:
José-Arturo Santos, IUCN’s Regional Offi ce for Meso America:

Work area: 
Locally Controlled Forests
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