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Bring on tomorrow: A new way of looking into the future of ecosystem services in southwestern Ethiopia

While science can do much, its chance to travel into the future is still severely limited. By applying old methods in a new way, Jiren et al. (2022) may have circumvented this issue. Scenario planning, stakeholder analysis and space-for-time substitution may all be well-used methods in various research fields, but employed together they open up new research opportunities: While both scenario planning and stakeholder analysis have been widely used in environmental management research, space-for-time substitution is usually used in landscape ecology and has been rarely applied in the social sciences. By using this combination, Jiren et al. show how multi-level stakeholder constellations, interests and influences on ecosystem services (ES) in a southwestern Ethiopian landscape might change in different future scenarios of landscape change.

A landscape in southwestern Ethiopia. Photo credit: Girma Shumi.

To map stakeholders’ interests and influences, the authors focus on smallholder farming landscapes sensitive to rapid social-ecological changes, which might endanger the livelihoods of local people who depend on their ecosystem services. Jiren et al. choose a baseline landscape rich in biodiversity, containing multiple land-use systems like agricultural lands, pasturelands, and forests – their so-called “focal landscape”. Proceeding from a space-for-time substitution, they decide on four existing landscapes in the Jimma-town region based on a previous scenario planning study that we covered here. These proxy landscapes illustrate possible scenarios for the Jimma-region in 2040. The first proxy landscape, based on the scenario “Gain over grain: Local cash crops” (hereafter: “cash crops”) mainly produces cash crops like coffee or khat. Secondly, the landscape based on “Mining green gold: Coffee investors” (hereafter: “coffee investors”) is known for its coffee production land use system and high share of private coffee investors. The third landscape based on the “Coffee and conservation: Biosphere reserve” scenario (hereafter: “biosphere reserve”) is defined as a multi-functional biosphere reserve with agricultural production areas. Lastly, the proxy landscape used for the scenario “Food first: Intensive farming and forest protection” (hereafter: “food first”) is defined by intensive agricultural land, pastureland and forest.

The authors conducted interviews in every landscape after identifying key stakeholders. The acquired data identified the actor’s constellations for all landscapes (governmental, private, community, non-governmental organizations), and illustrated shifts in stakeholders’ interest and influence on ES across governance levels and for key telecoupled ES.

Results show that a change to the “biosphere reserve” scenario increases the share of NGOs interested in the landscape, entailing stakeholders drawn to various provisioning, cultural, regulating and supporting ES. This multi-functionality can lead to minimized tradeoffs between generated ES and biodiversity levels. In contrast, changes to “cash crops”, “coffee investors” and “food first” scenarios would increase the proportion of local, regional and global private organizations involved with the landscapes – stakeholders who primarily try to maximize profit by commercializing provisioning ES. This intensification could lead to land sparing-approaches to conserve landscapes. But looking at the “coffee investor” scenario biodiversity was not of interest to the main stakeholders involved, making a worsening of biodiversity loss by reinvesting the returns in harmful practices more likely.

Jiren et al. stress that the potential changes in stakeholder constellations, interests and influences would have important implications for resource conservation and local equity. Applying this novel methodological approach can help foster proactive landscape management decisions, identifying either key stakeholders needed for changes to desired future land uses or stakeholders in danger of being marginalized by future changes. Adding space-for-time substitution allows the integration of a social and governance dimension to the biophysical scenario planning approaches. Finally, including multi-level stakeholder dynamics and interests ensures the consideration of stakeholder aspirations for new ES flows in a global, interconnected world. For now, this methodological approach might help to console us for not really being able to travel in time.

To gain a deeper insight into the application of the methodology check out the full paper here. If you want to learn more about the four scenarios used as proxy landscapes in this paper, check out our earlier blogpost about the paper by Jiren et al. (2020) here.


2 thoughts on “Bring on tomorrow: A new way of looking into the future of ecosystem services in southwestern Ethiopia

  1. That seems like a great and quite innovative methodological approach (even if it is “only” a combination of already existing methods), very impressive!


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