Forests for firewood, streams for irrigation, wetlands for flood defence: we all need natural systems to support and protect us, but it is many of the world’s poorest people who are most dependent on these ecosystem services. How can these systems be protected in ways that leave everyone better off? This question is driving a series of research projects under a programme called Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA), which runs until 2017 and is supported by DFID’s Research and Evidence Division, ESRC and NERC.
The idea of marrying green and pro-poor initiatives is gaining credence in policy circles, and will form the backbone for the discussions at the RIO+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development next year. Such integration requires a good understanding of the interplay between the many environmental, economic and social factors involved and ESPA is starting to fill the knowledge gaps that exist at these disciplinary divides. The programme began with a series of broad situation analyses that identified the knowledge needs and has recently commissioned 18 short-term research projects in Africa, Amazonia, South Asia and East Asia. ESPA is now in the process of commissioning large multi-regional consortium projects that aim to build capabilities amongst researchers and users of ESPA research to better integrate ecosystem services into development processes.