“Monetary valuation of ecosystem services is placing us on a quandary” stated a guest expert from an international non-governmental organization present at the Fourth ValuES Regional Asia-Africa-Europe Meeting, held from April 25th to 28th in Goa, India. He explained that while monetary values can be effective pieces of information to persuade policy makers of the importance of nature and its benefits, such simplistic approaches might obscure the various ways in which different groups of people value ecosystem services. More comprehensive analyses requires “switching gears” and articulating valuation efforts in more complex and interdisciplinary ways by combining social and natural sciences as well as incorporating participatory approaches to valuation. In this way, ecosystem service assessments and valuations (ESAVs) can reflect different people´s cultural and institutional backgrounds, and also their own worldviews and preferences.
For instance, a wetland ecosystem might be valued as a source of fish and as a provider of fresh water or it might be seen as an area that should be drained for agricultural or urban expansion purposes. If we focus on valuing only some of these aspects or only on the preferences of a specific group of people or sector, we might be placing certain ecosystem services in jeopardy and consequently, generating winners and losers from management decisions. Decision-makers who have access to more robust information, which should include insights into different values and preferences, can thus make better and more informed decisions.
Almost 50 participants from 17 different countries from Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia took part in the ValuES Regional Meeting. Most participants were from counterpart institutions of GIZ bilateral projects, GIZ project staff and representatives from international initiatives and institutions, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), United Nations Environment-TEEB Office, and Wetlands International. The meeting´s main objective was to promote the exchange of insights, ideas and experiences regarding the effective integration of ecosystem services into policy and decision-making. Participants engaged in various discussions concerning some of the building blocks of policy-oriented ESAVs as well as the challenges of making use of global recommendations, such as those from IPBES, at the national and sub-national levels. Additionally, participants had the opportunity to present their own initiatives and receive expert advice on particular challenges they may be facing in using the ecosystem services approach as a tool to influence policy-making.
During a “fish-bowl” discussion, guest experts and other participants engaged in a dialogue about the challenges of ensuring that international initiatives can achieve policy impact at the national and sub-national levels. International initiatives, such as IPBES, usually stem from national-level concerns but face the challenge of delivering recommendations that are useful and taken up at the national level. IPBES assessment reports that have already been completed, such as the Assessment Report on Pollination, Pollinators and Food Production, are available on-line and are accompanied by a summary for policy makers that provides an overview of the key issues and recommendations. These summaries reflect the lowest common denominator in terms of current issues that humanity is facing and yet offer insights, which are robust and grounded on a wealth of information and knowledge. Displaying the reports to encourage their use is, however, not enough. It is necessary to demonstrate the various ways in which society depends on and affects nature and place these insights at the heart of discussions. For this to happen, a good deal of awareness raising and capacity building needs to occur at the national and sub-national levels as well as advocacy to ensure that policy-makers and politicians make use of IPBES recommendations and products.
Most participants agreed that persuasive communication, awareness raising and capacity building are some of the key challenges in projects’ unfolding. These concerns were addressed in two separate sessions, respectively on persuasive communication and capacity building. The session on communication provided tricks and hints on how to tailor arguments in order to augment their persuasive power. As a starting point, effective communication should start by a careful analysis of target audience´s aspirations, needs and worries and tailor messages in a way that those perspectives are reflected. The session on capacity building focused on looking at capacity development as an integral part of the ESAV project cycle, from design up until the use and dissemination of results. Capacity development should focus on learning how to integrate ecosystem services into policy not only at the individual level but also in organizations and networks. The ValuES training courses can support learning processes by promoting interaction and knowledge sharing on using the ecosystem services approach to influence policy and practice. Courses’ contents cover a wide spectrum, from understanding the basic concepts of ecosystem services and ESAVs, over learning about various methods and tools, to ways in which to tailor assessments with a clear policy focus.
During the last day of the meeting, participants had the opportunity to visit Chorao Island and the Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. The land on this island was once almost entirely dedicated to agriculture but restoration efforts in the past few decades aided in converting parts of it back to mangrove forests. The mangrove areas are rich in various amphibian, fish and bird species. Apart from a walking tour inside the sanctuary, participants had the chance to observe and learn about traditional agricultural practices and water flow regulating systems used primarily for rice cultivation and fishing.
The Fourth ValuES Regional Asia-Africa-Europe Regional Meeting was organized and conducted with the kind support of the Himachal Pradesh Forest Ecosystem Services Project Component (commissioned by the BMZ) of the Indo-German Biodiversity Programme.