December 8, 2014

How can we manage ecosystem services for development outcomes? The case of the Cañete River Basin

Sarah Jones, Bioversity International Marcela Quintero, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Earlier this month, the CGIAR research program on Water, Land and Ecosystems published an Ecosystem Service and Resilience (ESR) Framework presenting an approach for using ecosystem service and resilience concepts to create multi-functional landscapes that sustain production, livelihoods, and human well-being. What does this mean for communities living in rural landscapes?

The critical role of farmers and other landscape managers

A central idea in the ESR framework is that landscapes can be managed to sustainably improve conditions for people living in poverty. Crucially, the framework views agricultural systems as both users and providers of a plethora of ecosystem services.  Indeed, well-managed agricultural systems ensure a flow of provisioning (food, fibre, biofuel), regulating (soil fertility, water supply) and cultural (aesthetic value, cognitive development) services from the landscape to people, while in turn the supply of regulating services underpinning agricultural production can be improved by making changes to landscape composition and configuration (Power 2010, Tschantke et al, 2005, Zhang et al. 2007).

Building on this knowledge base, the ESR Framework centers on the idea that people can manage the flow of ecosystem services and their benefits across a landscape to enhance the supply of services to and from agriculture, and more equitably distribute the resulting benefits. The aim is for these interventions to foster resilient socio-ecological systems that sustainably meet production needs and contribute to improved human well-being and livelihood security.  The framework suggests five principles for ensuring these interventions result in positive outcomes for rural communities:

  1. Meeting the needs of poor people is fundamental;
  2. People use, modify and care for nature which provides material and immaterial benefits to their livelihoods;
  3. Cross-scale and cross-level interactions of ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes can be managed to positively impact development outcomes;
  4. Governance mechanisms are vital tools for achieving equitable access to, and provision of, ecosystem services;
  5. Building resilience is about enhancing the capacity of communities to sustainably develop in an uncertain world.

Enhancing ecosystem service flows and sharing the benefits

A proposed scheme to manage water-related ecosystem services in the Cañete River Basin of the Peruvian Andes is an example of what the ESR Framework can look like in practice.  The Cañete River Basin supplies communities throughout the basin with water to support farming and other livelihoods, but the distribution of benefits from these water-related ecosystem services is highly uneven and many people live in poverty. Can these ecosystem services be better-managed to improve outcomes for communities across the river basin?

Farmer in the lowland reaches of the Cañete River Basin, Peru. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

Farmer in the lowland reaches of the Cañete River Basin, Peru. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

Native grasslands, wetlands, Andean forests, relicts and shrubs in the upper Cañete Basin provide a vital service to river water-users, helping to sustain water yield and availability throughout the year.  But these ecosystems are threatened by existing pasture management practices, where overgrazing and human-induced fires are commonplace. These practices reduce the soil’s water storage capacity that regulates water flows in the basin, threatening water yield and availability downstream. To improve the provision of these water-related services, the Peruvian Ministry for the Environment (MINAM) has decided to promote and design a scheme to reward upstream communities for conservation and enhancement of highland ecosystems.  Providing rewards to the people who manage upstream ecosystems for appropriate management of pasturelands for the benefit of communities relying on water-related services in the middle and lower part of the basin helps foster a sustainable and equitable system of reciprocity around ecosystem services. This should result in improved water quantity, quality and regularity for communities and healthier natural and managed ecosystems, creating a more resilient socio-ecological system.  This payment for ecosystem services scheme will be part funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and is supported by various organisations included the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), who has helped identify priority areas for investments in ecosystem protection in the basin.

Upland section of the Cañete River watershed, Peru. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

Upland section of the Cañete River watershed, Peru. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer.

Read More

The full ESR Framework provides a more in-depth look at the underpinning concepts and other examples of ways the framework can be guide landscape intervention decisions.

Sarah Jones is a Research Assistant at Bioversity International and part of the Resilience and Ecosystem Services core theme within CGIAR’s Water, Land and Ecosystems research program. Marcela Quintero is the leader of the Ecosystem Services Group in the Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).  Both authors were key contributors to the ESR Framework.


  • Joaquin Boehnert
    December 9, 2014 at 1:52am

    What is missing in this article is the information that the middle up to the higher watershed region of the Cañete river system is protected by the “Reserva Pasajistica Nor Yauyos Cochas”. I presume in English you call this “Protected Landscape Reserve”. According to the IUCN, local traditions and ways of cultivating the land, are vital parts of a protected landscape reserve.
    Apart of a very beautiful landscape, still rich in small river systems and waterfalls which form the Cañete River, this region has a social problem. Most of the young people go away to the city of Lima, and the small fields in the Andean Region are cultivated by older people, or abandon.
    This is a limitation in the recommendations of the article, particularly in no. 5: “Building resilience is about the capacity of communities to sustainable development in a uncertain world.

  • Hal Michael
    December 8, 2014 at 4:52pm

    A work plan such as this is crucial to long-term sustainability. But it will work only as long as the root cause is dealt with and that is the number of humans. Using the best practices works only so long as the ecosystem can provide the resources. If, for example, each human needs 100 gallons of water per day and the total available in the area is 10,000 gpd, then when we have 101 people there isn’t enough water for them, much the natural resources that depend on the water for their life.