Tim Daw (Stockholm Resilience Centre), 29 Mar. 2017:

Do the poor benefit more, from nature? Evidence on the relationship between ecosystem services, poverty and wellbeing in coastal Kenya and Mozambique

It is a common truism that poor people are the most dependent on ecosystem services. Surprisingly, few empirical data have shown the benefits to poor and non-poor individuals from different types of ecosystem services. The SPACES (Sustainable Poverty Alleviation from Coastal Ecosystem Services) project aims to explore how ecosystems contribute to the wellbeing of poor people. The project’s conceptual framework emphasises the multiple contextual, ecological and individual or household level factors that determine whether ecosystem services help people to meet their needs and aspirations. In this presentation I will briefly introduce the project and then present some ongoing analysis on the relationship between ecosystem service benefits and poverty amongst a survey sample of >2000 individuals in 8 coastal communities in Kenya and Mozambique.

Benefits are assessed for various ecosystem services, and multidimensional poverty is evaluated through material lifestyle, meeting basic human needs, income, and life satisfaction. Evaluating multidimensional poverty immediately uncovers complexities. For example fishing households are less likely to be income poor than their neighbours but more likely to have poor material styles of life.

Patterns in poverty and ES-use raise critical questions of interpretation that are fundamental for poverty alleviation from ES. When the poor benefit more from ES, does this indicate ES providing critical life-support in the absence of alternatives, or that benefits from ES-based livelihood are too meagre to improve their wellbeing? Where non-poor benefit more from an ES, is this evidence of elite capture, or of beneficiaries lifting themselves out of poverty based on ES? Finally, poverty–ES correlations may be due to other confounding factors of location, tradition or lifestyle choices of individuals. I will also draw on SPACES qualitative data to discuss some of the possible mechanisms behind the patterns observed.

Related publication: Daw et al. 2016. Elasticity in ecosystem services: exploring the variable relationship between ecosystems and human well-being. Ecology and Society 21.