Land Resources

Ecosystem Services

"Ecosystem means a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit." (CBD)

Ecosystem services are defined as all benefits that humans receive from ecosystems (Daily, G., (1997). These benefits can be direct (e.g. food production) or indirect, through the functioning of ecosystem processes that produce the direct services. The Millennium Assessment classified these ecosystem services in four categories (supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural).

 

Although the gains to be achieved as a result of SLM in agricultural ecosystems are first and foremost local private gains (i.e. increased productivity of land, diversified products, mitigation of the effects of drought and storms, lower input-output cost ratio, leading to more sustainable livelihoods and food security), benefits are also felt at a wider scale:

• Improved resilience and reduced vulnerability of rural populations to pests, diseases, drought and flood, resulting in enhanced food security and poverty alleviation.
• Better management of community resources (e.g. pasture/range, woodlots, forest, wetlands, water resources) resulting in a lower incidence of land-use conflicts and improved well-being.
• Land use practices can have a direct and measurable impact on sediment transport, downstream water quality, flow pattern and groundwater recharge in small rural watersheds (FAO, 2002).
• A range of ecosystem services are provided through SLM-AG in addition to the production of food and raw materials (also known as “goods”) these include nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, soil erosion control/soil formation, maintenance of the hydrological regime, biological control of pests and diseases, pollination, detoxification of wastes and climate regulation.
• Global environmental benefits of SLM have also been identified (Gisladottir et al, 2005; World Bank, 1997; Oygard et al., 1999), specifically:

- reversing land degradation
- climate change mitigation (through reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and enhanced carbon sequestration);
- conservation of biodiversity (through the exploitation of a larger variety of food and non-food crops, indigenous plants and animals, and sustainable use of natural areas); and
- protection of international waters (through land-water linkages described above).

• Even in poor rural environments, the aesthetic and recreational value of natural and agricultural landscapes can be recognized as valuable by outsiders (e.g. forest reserves, parks) (Colombo et al, 2005).

Through their land management activities, land users and rural communities impact on stakeholders beyond agricultural land boundaries by providing a range of environmental services. Depending on the land use systems and practices being implemented they may either positively enhance or negatively impact on these services.

Recognizing the value and importance of those environmental services allows us to identify the particular groups of stakeholders that are actual or potential beneficiaries of the different services (e.g. downstream water users, people living downslope, safeguard and exchange of genetic resources, those benefitting from wild or associated biodiversity; tax-payers, occasional visitors and the international community).

Ensuring that providers of environmental services (land users) are adequately rewarded (either directly or indirectly) by the beneficiaries could contribute to correct the failure of market mechanisms to account for environmental impacts (i.e. negative and positive externalities) (FAO, 2004; FAO, 2005). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) makes a very clear distinction between the “baseline” benefits (i.e. local and national) and the “incremental” (i.e. global) environmental benefits of sustainable land management, the latter being the focus of its financial support.