Coupling biophysical modeling results and local farmer preferences to optimize land use in Ethiopia

Coupling biophysical modeling results and local farmer preferences to optimize land use in Ethiopia

The production-conservation paradox – one of the 21st century’s grand challenges

A stakeholder validation meeting with participants from woredas (districts) around the Yayo coffee forest biosphere reserve, international research organizations, and universities.

As Ethiopia approaches 105 million people, the growing demand for food is expanding agriculture into marginal, forest, and natural conservation areas. Human-induced activities include population pressure, agricultural expansion, logging, and development, which have been challenging development and conservation efforts. As cultivation and grazing expand into peripheral and conservation areas, land degradation in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, and nutrient mining as well as conflict between land uses and users accelerate the vulnerability of local farmers to climate change. Despite the environmental, social, and economic benefits of biodiversity and natural ecosystem conservation, the reality is that views that strictly exclude the human element are no longer an option. It is therefore essential to understand what combinations of uses and which management options can provide maximum benefits for both social and environmental well-being. Hence the big question remains: “Is there a win-win solution to the increasing tension between environmental conservation efforts and the quest for securing livelihood?”

CIAT’s approach to solving the grand challenge

With this question in mind, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in partnership with the David & Lucile Packard Foundation began a research project in the Yayo coffee forest biosphere reserve (YCFBR) aimed at enhancing food security while conserving ecosystem services through optimal investment and spatial targeting of agricultural intensification, environmental conservation, and landscape restoration. The YCFBR has been recognized and protected by UNESCO since 2010 as a biodiversity hotspot and it is one of the last remaining montane rainforest fragments with wild Coffea arabica populations in the world. To increase awareness about the project, “Managing tradeoffs between agricultural production, biodiversity conservation, and regulating ecosystem services to optimize land use planning in Southwestern Ethiopia,” and to create consensus among stakeholders on its objectives, scope, and methodologies, a kickoff meeting was held in February 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Stakeholders (among them researchers, environmental and natural resource conservation experts and practitioners, university lecturers, as well as representatives of zones/woredas within the Yayo biosphere) were the participants. Dr. Lulseged Tamene, a senior scientist at CIAT, introduced the project to participants with the intention of identifying other projects working in agriculture, livelihood, and conservation-related topics in the region and creating possible synergies among similar projects working in Southwestern Ethiopia. The meeting also provided an opportunity to pick the brains of experts working in the YCFBR in order to identify important ecosystem services for inclusion in the “tradeoff and synergy” analysis. Following the important discussions and suggestions, a succeeding presentation was made by Dr. Wuletawu Abera of CIAT highlighting the detailed methods and approaches to be employed to achieve the project objectives.

Figure 1. Some of the participants at ILRI campus in Addis Ababa.

Figure 1. Some of the participants at ILRI campus in Addis Ababa.

This feedback was also crucial in providing the basis of data collection and analysis, in addition to the preparation of land use/cover maps and temporal trends for the YCFBR area. As the approaches couple both biophysical and socioeconomic components, the work was mainly conducted using earth observation data, modeling, and scenario analysis.

This exercise mainly resulted in a tradeoff analysis and determination of the production frontier that approximately defined the “supply” of ecosystem services available in the region and for specific farming systems. To implement the latter, a field visit was organized to collect household-based socioeconomic data about the preferences of farmers for various ecosystem services (in relation to different farming systems and the whole biosphere reserve). This provided information on the “demand” for ecosystem services by the local community and households.

The next effort focused on defining the “position” at which supply and demand could be met in an optimum manner.

Figure 2. Panoramic view of the Yayo coffee forest biosphere reserve.

Figure 2. Panoramic view of the Yayo coffee forest biosphere reserve.

A second-round stakeholder meeting was conducted in September 2019 to present the key results of the project. During the meeting, Dr. Tamene and Dr. Abera presented key findings covering the major processes followed during the project implementation, a baseline assessment to define ecosystems, analyses of the major services delivered by the defined ecosystems, the tradeoffs between different ecosystem services, and a definition of the production frontier – a “zone” where a biophysical optimum can be achieved.

An assessment of the demand for ecosystem services as revealed by the preferences of close to 300 households interviewed was made and used to inform an indifference curve to show the socioeconomic optimum (which shows the socioeconomic optimum or preferable zone, other things being equal).

Finally, the production frontier and the indifference curve were coupled to determine the optimum position at which both demand and supply could be satisfied without compromising other needs. This is where tradeoffs are negotiated to be at the minimum, the so-called win-win solution.

Stakeholder validation

The presentations were interesting and inspirational to many of the participants, who found the methods employed to be advanced and innovative. The findings were discussed during a question and answer session.

The participants appreciated the results, with some noting the volume of technical analysis conducted within such a short time. One higher official, Mr. Getahun Legesse, Illu Ababora Agriculture head, expressed his view and asked for more work on the integration of research results into the YCFBR management plan, stating: “How such breakthrough research results could be implemented on the ground to promote synergies to guide policymakers and stakeholders on design and implementation of appropriate management plans is really a key next step for this work.” Dr. Deginet Abebaw, senior agricultural economist, was impressed by the work and pledged support toward publications in scientific journals. Dr. Habtemariam Kassa, another participant from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), was also positive about the coupling of the local community’s preferences for the ecosystem and biophysical modeling results and even planned to incorporate the methodological approaches in their upcoming project.

The participants were invited to deliberate on the constraints, opportunities, and incentives regarding the sustainability issues of the YCFBR:

  • Integration of various projects and activities in the area is important, along with deliberate efforts to consolidate future work.
  • Recommendations and policy briefs on the clear demarcation of the biosphere reserve and within its management zones should be pushed forward based on both the supply of the landscape and the demand of the local community.
  • Implementation of developmental research and the integration of different NGOs and GOs need to be advanced.
  • Efforts regarding market promotion for organic coffee and media coverage for the overall biosphere reserve values are needed.

This feedback is crucial and will be used to show how CIAT results could not only be adopted and useful but could also help to understand the learning situations on the ground that will lead to the development of relevant projects.