Links between Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation


Shackleton, C, Shackleton, S, Gambiza, J, Nel, E, Rowntree, K and Urquhart, P (2008), Links between Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation: Situation analysis for arid and semi-arid lands in southern Africa, , Rhodes University, for Ecosystem Services and Poverty Reduction Research Programme: DFID, NERC, ESRC.

Aim and objectives

This report presents the findings of a situation analysis, covering the arid and semi-arid lands of southern Africa, presenting evidence of the links between ecosystem services and human well-being, and especially the opportunities for poverty alleviation through the provision and management of ecosystem services. It was conducted between late September 2007 and January 2008. The specific requirements were to:

  • provide evidence of the importance of ecosystem services for human well-being, especially in terms of poverty alleviation, and beyond just provisioning services;
  • explore the linkages between ecosystem services and poverty (including vulnerability) and the factors that influence these linkages (such as drivers of ecosystem change and trade-offs);
  • identify knowledge gaps that would need to be filled through a longer term research and advocacy programme, so that appropriate policy and management interventions could be implemented to prevent and reverse poverty through sound ecosystem manage-ment; and
  • identify strengths and weaknesses in management capacity in the region for ecosystems and their services.

In meeting this brief it was recognised that there are many seminal works investigating poverty/development and natural resource use, but relatively few are situated within an ecosystem services paradigm. Secondly, the links between the two are complex, frequently non-linear, and are spatially and temporally variable. Such complexity requires innovative analytical frameworks, but also at times, of necessity, simplification and examination of individual components in isolation. These can then be integrated once the basic building blocks are understood and synergies and scenarios examined.

Consequently, the focus areas of the situation analysis were divided into six key questions for ease of analysis and communication, but the reader needs to be constantly aware that they are intimately linked, and dealing with them sequentially at times trivialises the inherent complexity.

  •  Which ecosystems services are important, and in what way, for the well-being of the poor?
  • What are recent trends in the supply of these ecosystem services?
  • What factors are driving such trends?
  • What knowledge gaps exist that limit the implementation of policies and practices to manage ecosystems better to contribute to human well-being, especially of the poor?
  • What capacity exists in the region to manage ecosystems to optimise benefits to the poor?
  • What success stories exist


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