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Ecosystem Services, Wellbeing and Justice

DEV Key ContactNeil Dawson

Project Dates: 2013 - 2016

Project Status: Open


The project is funded jointly by the Natural Environment Research Council, the Social Science Research Council and the UK Department for International Development through the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation Programme.

Partner Organisations:



The management of ecosystems in the tropics often involves tradeoffs between the conservation of global ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity, and the provision of services important to local people such as food provision or collection of timber. In our recent project 'Just Ecosystem Management', we found that the use of justice analyses improved our conceptual understanding of such tradeoffs and provided theoretical insights into how we might work to resolve them. In this follow-on project, we combine the insights on justice with recent innovations in wellbeing research and aim to translate this novel conceptual approach into practical research tools which may contribute to both long-term ecosystem management and poverty alleviation. The underlying rationale is that more equitable distribution of ecosystem services, meaningful participation of poor people in management decisions and recognition of their knowledge and experiences, considered to be three key dimensions of justice, can create positive impacts on the contribution of ecosystem services to poverty alleviation.


The proposed project will test these theoretical ideas through empirical, multidisciplinary research in the Nam Et Phou Loeuy (NEPL) region of northern Laos. NEPL is a mountainous tropical forest ecosystem of great biodiversity value, but also with high poverty levels. It is the site of a National Protected Area (NPA) established by the Lao Government with support by international conservation organizations to conserve critical forest habitat and associated biodiversity, including, among 18 endangered species of large mammal present, one of the most important tiger populations in Indochina. Our study will enhance knowledge of the intricacies of swidden farming, a form of shifting cultivation common in the region. Upland rice and increasingly maize cultivation form a major part of local livelihoods, for which complex and varied systems of agriculture form intricate links between land use in a variety of forest and non-forest habitats, their associated biodiversity and food availability. We will also contribute data from the perspective of the poor populations living alongside these biodiverse regions, which is often lacking in national assessments.

Research will analyse three types of interventions aimed to reconcile the conservation of global ecosystem services with local provision of ecosystem services and protection from ecosystem disservices: resettlement of villages from the core protected zone to locations outside the NPA; the combination of limited use with protection in a controlled use zone; and tourism revenue-sharing arrangements. It will assess the interventions by way of expert and participatory justice and wellbeing assessments to generate evidence, tools and recommendations for ecosystem management which resolve tradeoffs between local and global ecosystem services to promote poverty alleviation.

The project will produce four main outputs for ESPA research:
1) Empirical insights on how different interventions designed to reconcile local and global ecosystem services affect the contributions of ecosystem services to poverty alleviation.
2) Tools for wider research on the contributions of ecosystem services to poverty alleviation appropriate to remote areas of the Global South, including:
- Disaggregated ecosystem services and ecosystem disservices inventory
- Guidelines for expert justice assessments of ecosystem management
- Protocol for participatory workshops on ecosystem services, wellbeing and justice
- Interview guide on ecosystem services, wellbeing and justice
Additionally we aim to design, test and promote the Participatory Ecosystem Services Inventory Tool (PESIT), which would allow local communities to identify and measure a range of ecosystem services / ecosystem disservices and map key stakeholders with support from external facilitators.

The research will be planned and tools designed alongside the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in consultation with local stakeholders including government officials, NGOs and researchers. WCS are a major global stakeholder in ecosystem management and are actively keen to be involved in testing of tools in their own sites in Laos and Cambodia and applying these tools to improve the effectiveness of interventions in including and benefitting poor and marginalised individuals and groups. We aim to utilise and build on current knowledge of ecosystem services and wellbeing in the study area and to build capacity within Laos through the National University, local NGOs and government officials for future research.

Selected Outputs
Sikor, T (2013). The Justices and Injustices of Ecosystem Services. Earthscan Publications, London