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How do you convince a farmer who is struggling to produce a crop not to plough additional land next to his local river, or how can you tell a fisherman who needs to provide for his family that he shouldn’t use certain pesticides to enhance his catch of fish? There are answers to each of these questions but often these answers involve more cost, time and labor to be borne by the local community. So why should they change their practices?

That is the challenge facing the CPWF Ecosystems Services Assessment project team as we explore in-depth the optimum balance of natural resources and farming practices that will lead to sustainable harvesting  of land in the Volta River basin.

The key part of the project for me is the issue of resilience – the ability of a given natural system to bounce back from degradation to a state it was before a given shock. It’s a complex issue and one that has been pivotal to the Ecosystems Services Assessment thus far. The Volta Basin provides local communities with an abundance of resources and benefits such as water, nutrients and fertile soil, as well as plants and animals that can be used in medicine and housing. Unfortunately, some current farming practices have a detrimental effect on these environmental supplies.

Yesterday, I presented a poster at Stockholm World Water Week. The poster goes in-depth into the issue of resilience; it explains that in order to achieve a resilient ecosystem there is a delicate trade-off required between what the environment can supply and the methods used to harvest these resources. It is an important part of our project and one we hope will lead to informed and productive discussions with key decision-makers in the Volta Basin. (Click the image below to view the poster.)

The Ecosystems Services Assessment project began in May 2011. The aim of our study is to evaluate how ecosystem services and resilience in the Volta Basin is impacted by major drivers such as:

  • bush-burning;
  • pesticide application in aquatic bodies as a fishing practice;
  • river bank cultivation involving clearing of riparian vegetation; and
  • erosion and sedimentation.

To get to the heart of what we mean when we talk about resilience we constructed a conceptual framework and have applied a number of tools to model, quantify and value what the Volta Basin environment provides local communities.

We are now at the point where we have identified the trade-offs. We can show different scenarios and pathways to farmers and key decision-makers and how each will result in either a win-win situation (the optimum result), a win-lose situation or a lose-lose situation.

It is vital for the region that we start the ‘conversation’ about the issue of resilience with all the key players in the farming communities – farmers, fisherman, herders, district assembly representatives and even national policy makers. We need to educate them on how to find the optimum balance between what can create a win-win situation for local communities whilst not slipping into a wine-lose or a lose-lose relationship.

It’s a fine line, and we envisage the next steps of the project will include an educational campaign including a role-playing scenario, similar to that employed by the CPWF V4 Project, that will present all the pertinent information for key decision-makers. The scenario will show participants how each aspect of farming is interrelated in the basin and how they need to consider trade-offs in order to find the perfect balance for sustainable use of the natural environment.

By Fred Kizito, IWMI West Africa

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