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  • Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

Bamboo and rattan: Surprising tools for forest protection

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A display of giant pandas greets attendees at BARC 2018. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

A new declaration is paving the way for non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in forest conservation. 

Bamboo and rattan are important – but critically overlooked – non-timber forest products. These plants have huge potential to restore degraded land, build earthquake-resilient housing, reduce deforestation, and provide jobs for millions of people in rural communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Despite this, bamboo and rattan are often regarded as ‘poor man’s timber’, and households, governments and businesses have yet to realize their full potential.

This image problem may be about to change. On 25-27 June, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner institution the International Bamboo and Rattan Organisation (INBAR) and China’s National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) cohosted the Global Bamboo and Rattan Congress (BARC) in Beijing, China. At the Congress, 1,200 participants from almost 70 countries took part in discussions about the uses of bamboo and rattan in agroforestry, their ecosystem services, and their contribution to a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Inspiring innovation

Speakers included Vincent Gitz, Director of FTA, and Robert Nasi, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Both highlighted problems of forest governance, and the role that innovative bamboo and rattan uses can play in this regard. Indeed, innovation was a key theme of the event. Throughout the three-day Congress, entrepreneurs exhibited innovative products: from wind turbines and bicycles to heavy-duty drainage pipes and flat-pack housing made with bamboo. Fast-growing and quick to mature, with the properties of hardwood, bamboo can provide an important low-carbon replacement for cement, plastics, steel and timber.

An equally important point, raised in many discussions, was NTFPs’ potential to create incomes for the rural poor. Throughout BARC, participants heard from speakers who had created businesses with bamboo: from Bernice Dapaah, who has founded an internationally recognized bamboo bicycle company in Ghana, to entrepreneurs from countries in Southeast Asia, where many communities rely on rattan for up to 50% of their cash income. According to INBAR Director General Hans Friederich, the bamboo and rattan sector employs almost 10 million people in China alone, proving that there are many possibilities for these plants to contribute to FTA’s core research themes.

Read also: Realizing bamboo and rattan’s full potential: An interview with INBAR Director General Hans Friederich

A bamboo bicycle is pictured on the first day of the Congress. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

Storing carbon 

The potential for bamboo to complement forests’ role as carbon sinks was much discussed. A new report, launched at BARC, shows how certain species of bamboos’ fast rate of carbon storage makes them a very competitive tool for carbon sequestration. In an important announcement in plenary, Wang Chunfeng, Deputy Director-General of NFGA, suggested that bamboo could become part of offset projects in China’s new emissions trading scheme – a statement with huge potential for bamboo management.

And in a striking statement of support for bamboo’s use as a carbon sink, Dr. Li Nuyun, Executive Vice-President of the China Green Carbon Fund, stated that her organization would help establish a bamboo plantation in Yunnan province, China. Over time, the plantation will aim to sequester the estimated 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted over the course of the Congress – making BARC a ‘zero-carbon’ event.

Protecting biodiversity

Biodiversity management was the theme of a number of sessions. In a session on the Giant Panda, speakers from Conservation International, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the Nature Conservancy, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the Wildlife Conservation Society in China, and the World Wildlife Fund committed their support toward a potential planning workshop in early 2019. The workshop would discuss how to take a holistic approach to biodiversity protection, which integrates bamboo management, panda protection and natural heritage conservation.

Read also: Study examines bamboo value chains to support industry growth

Offering ‘win-wins’

As many of the discussions showed, bamboo and rattan are often used because they offer more than one solution. Bamboo charcoal is such a case. As a clean-burning, locally growing source of energy, bamboo charcoal can significantly reduce stress on slower-growing forest resources. However, it can also form an important revenue source for individuals, particularly women.

Dancille Mukakamari, the Rwanda National Coordinator for the Africa Women’s Network for Sustainable Development, described how “charcoal is crucial for women in Africa”. And Gloria Adu, a successful Ghana-based entrepreneur who has been making bamboo charcoal for several decades, emphasized its huge potential for deforestation prevention, mentioning that almost three-quarters of Ghanaian forest loss came through charcoal production.

The road from BARC

Flags represent the countries in attendance at BARC 2018. Photo by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera

If bamboo and rattan are so important, then why are they not more widely used? A lack of awareness is one factor. According to many of the private sector representatives at BARC, the absence of clear customs codes for bamboo and rattan, or specific standards to ensure the safety and quality of products, has prevented their uptake.

Ignorance is only part of the problem, however. Although people are increasingly aware about bamboo and rattan’s properties, more needs to be done to share technologies and innovative uses. Speaking in plenary, entrepreneur and author of The Blue Economy, Gunter Pauli, said it best: “The science is already there. We don’t have to convince people about bamboo, we have to inspire them – and bamboo is an inspiring product.”

The Congress made an important step forward in this need to ‘inspire’ change. On the first day, INBAR and the International Fund for Agriculture announced the launch of a new project, which plans to share Chinese bamboo industry expertise and technologies with four countries in Africa. The initiative aims to benefit 30,000 rural smallholder farmers and community members across Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar, who will be taught about how to plant, manage and create value-added products using bamboo.

BARC also saw an outpouring of political support for bamboo and rattan. A number of heads of state and development organization leaders provided video messages in support of bamboo and rattan. And in a plenary session, John Hardy, the TED talk speaker and founder of the Bamboo Green School in Bali, Indonesia, offered to offset his lifetime carbon emissions using bamboo, in a demonstration of the plant’s carbon storage potential.

Read also: Mapping bamboo forest resources in East Africa

The Beijing Declaration

With three plenary events, 75 side sessions and a lot of inspiration, BARC showed that there is clearly growing interest in bamboo and rattan for forest management. Announced on the third and final day of the Congress, the Beijing Declaration aimed to put all these commitments into action. Written on behalf of “ministers, senior officials, and participants”, the Declaration lays out bamboo and rattan’s contributions as “a critical part of forests and ecosystems”, and calls upon governments to support the plants’ development in forestry and related initiatives.

According to INBAR’s Friederich, “The Beijing Declaration stands to make a real difference in the way bamboo and rattan are included in forest practices. Far from being poor man’s timber, this Congress has shown that bamboo and rattan are truly green gold. Now we need to focus on the road from BARC – how to make these plants a vital part of the way we manage forests, and the environment.”

Given their relevance for climate change mitigation and adaptation, their role in supporting sustainable forest conservation and their importance to smallholder livelihoods, bamboo and rattan are key NFTPs for the realization of FTA’s core aims. As the Congress showed, the key challenge now is to integrate these plants into forest management, and promote their central role in sustainable development.

By Charlotte King, INBAR international communications specialist. 

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  • A business case: co-investing for ecosystem service provisions and local livelihoods in Rejoso watershed

A business case: co-investing for ecosystem service provisions and local livelihoods in Rejoso watershed

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The Rejoso business case is based on information from piloting a payment for ecosystem services (PES) scheme aimed at stimulating multi-stakeholder co-investment in restoring and maintaining good watershed functions. The business case presents the benefits of applying innovations in setting the PES pilot that enhance participation and inclusiveness of smallholder farmers in the programme, link the scientific approaches to on-theground actions and, ultimately, ensure that the programme is cost-efficient and effective in restoring and maintaining watershed functions compared to ‘business as usual’.

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  • Relationships Between Ecosystem Services: Comparing Methods for Assessing Tradeoffs and Synergies

Relationships Between Ecosystem Services: Comparing Methods for Assessing Tradeoffs and Synergies

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Understanding the interactions between the multiple ecosystem services (ES) which can be delivered from a single landscape is essential. Most studies on ES relationships use spatial or temporal statistical analysis (for example: correlations between services). Methods from microeconomic theory have recently received attention for describing ES relationships. The nature and intensity of ES relationships can be assessed by fitting a production possibility frontier that indicates the maximum amount of one ES that can be produced by landscape, for different levels of another ES. This study estimates production frontiers empirically, and compares the ES relationships insights gained this way with those inferred from correlation approaches. InVEST software was used to model and map the provision of six ES in the Reventazón watershed in Costa Rica. Spatial and temporal ES correlation patterns were analyzed for four observed land uses/land covers (LULC). Production frontiers were constructed using a set of 32 simulated scenarios. Production frontier was the most sensitive method for detecting ES relationships. The nature and intensity of ES relationships revealed depended on the analytic methods used. In comparison with correlations, the production frontier approach provided additional information relating to tradeoff intensity and Pareto efficient LULC configurations.

Access the document: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2018.04.002

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  • Tree-ring record in Ethiopian church forests reveals successive generation differences in growth rates and disturbance events

Tree-ring record in Ethiopian church forests reveals successive generation differences in growth rates and disturbance events

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Forests provide fundamental ecosystem services. Environmental changes are predicted to affect forest growth directly through increased environmental stressors, and indirectly by amplifying disturbance. To increase our understanding of effects of environmental changes and disturbance on Afromontane forest growth, we used tree-ring data collected from Juniperus procera trees from church forests in the northwest highlands of Ethiopia. We used structural change models to detect structural shift in growth trends. We applied Linear Mixed Effect Models (LMM) to compare growth rate differences between successive tree generations. The running mean method and radial growth pattern analysis were used to detect disturbance events. Three groups of generations were identified based on Basal Area Increment (BAI) rates. There are significant differences (?=2204.64, P<.001) anong generations in pace of BAI, indicating that old generation trees grew at a slower pace than younger ones. Radial growth patterns were homogeneous for the old generation, but diverse in young trees. The observed high growth rates in the younger generation may have a negative effect on the longevity of the individuals and positively affect carbon accumulation in the biomass. Disturbance was detected in all generations, but worsened in the 20th century. anout 35% of disturbances matched with climate extreme events, providing evidence that the disturbance is both human-induced (i.e., site-specific) and climate-induced. Thus, forest management plans should emerge from a sound understanding of climate-forest-human interaction.

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  • Defining critical issues in forest ecosystem services in Bhutan

Defining critical issues in forest ecosystem services in Bhutan

A large patch of lemongrass grows in the Chisapani Community Forest in Nepal. Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki/CIFOR
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A large patch of lemongrass grows in the Chisapani Community Forest in Nepal. Photo by Chandra Shekhar Karki/CIFOR

In Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas, it is often the middle road that is chosen. A new paper, part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), looks at the connections between forests and Gross National Happiness in the country.

There’s the middle path of the country’s religion and its emphasis on spiritual balance, symbolized in the prayer flags and pagoda tops that peek through the mountain trees. Then there’s the Lateral Road, the main highway that runs east to west through the middle of the country, where Robin Sears, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) consultant and an Assistant Professor at Hampshire College, rides her bike when she visits the area to research forests, villages and governance.

A middle-road approach also applies to the country’s self-designed development index: Gross National Happiness (GNH), conceptualized by the fourth king in the 1970s as a more holistic replacement for the standard measure of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Enshrined in Bhutan’s Constitution in 2008, the GNH index now serves as a yardstick for every piece of legislature introduced in the country, ensuring a balance of its four pillars of environmental conservation, cultural preservation, equitable socioeconomic development and good governance.

“It’s so wonderful that GNH looks at a balance of socioeconomic and environmental issues,” says Sears. “It’s structured into policymaking processes. Every proposal for development and budgets and policy has to go through the GNH Commission to see if it meets balanced requirements. It mixes people from different sectors together.”

Often, the pillars of GNH work like dominoes falling into one another. A community’s good relationship with the environment leads to the preservation of their culture, which moves governance to help support the environment through proper forest ecosystem practices. Environment-based socioeconomic development then occurs, and so on.

A man expresses his emotions in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo by Moses Ceaser/CIFOR

Until now, however, very little research has been done on these chain reactions, and specifically the relationship between GNH and forestry. Along with a team of five other scientists, Sears recently published a paper looking at existing literature on GNH and assessing how forests tie into this framework.

“I’d been going to Bhutan since 2009, and I’d always heard from my colleagues that we didn’t have evidence for this or that,” says Sears. “So I was sitting with some of them talking over dinner one night, and we realized that we first needed to define what we needed evidence for, what were the most critical issues in forest ecosystem services in Bhutan. And so we said, ‘Let’s do this thing!’”

Read more: Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness


The researchers set out to define a baseline for how forests are linked to the country’s developmental direction.

“Everything we do has to feed into government plans,” says Sears. “You can’t come here to study butterflies because you love butterflies. We have to come and do stuff that Bhutan needs.”

The nation’s needs are outlined in the government’s Five Year Plans, which set targets and budgets across all major sectors for the coming period. The current plan, covering the period 2013-2018, includes four priority areas related to forest ecosystem services, the most important of which is enhancing water security through a national water resource management plan.

“The big thing that the government has been pushing in the last four to eight years is watershed management. How do we reduce soil erosion? How do we keep rivers clean?”

But there is little research as yet on water issues, such as quality, quantity, watersheds and the effects of hydropower infrastructure. For instance, Bhutan’s dams face issues of flooding and adverse effects on biodiversity, like fish, algae, flora and rare fauna like white-bellied herons.

Furthermore, as water supplies change with shifting precipitation patterns and the melting of Himalayan glaciers due to climate change, studies on water regulation and payment mechanisms for water protection are set to become increasingly important. The new study lays out what knowledge exists on these topics so that the gaps can be filled in.

Another priority for this five-year period is strengthening livelihood opportunities for forest-based communities – in other words, increasing the incomes of those who depend on forests. If this is successful, forestry authorities can use the success stories to push harder for the maintenance of forests in the face of competing interests for development of land into ranches or cash-crop plantations.

“As well as boosting the productivity of forests, we want to create and promote a market for forest products. If we can show that standing forests are valuable, that’s the way to keep them around,” says Sears.

Read more: How are China, Nepal and Ethiopia restoring forest landscapes?


For centuries, Bhutanese communities have closed access to mountains on a rotating basis, believing that this keeps them in the good favor of local deities. This practice, known as Reedum, coincides with the warmer seasons, which are most conducive for forest growth, in turn promoting forest preservation and preventing natural disaster. Another tradition, Tsadum, restricts grazing on certain landscapes in a similar way.

“Such practices are important to enhance a wide range of regulating, cultural and supporting services, although the provisioning services may be limited due to the restricted use,” says CIFOR scientist Himlal Baral, a coauthor of the paper.

Whether a lack of landslides and flash floods are considered a result of the gods’ good graces or of scientifically sound practices, the fact is that Reedum, Tsadum and other sacred customs have long been effective forest and landscape management techniques. However, they have no formal place in law, and therefore are becoming endangered.

Sonam Phuntsho, another coauthor of the paper, and a senior researcher at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research, says there is a lack of data on how much forest in Bhutan is managed under customary law, or how many sacred groves still exist. Social changes are also impacting their survival, he adds.

“There are ongoing threats to sacred groves and associated ecosystem services due to changing social dynamics and economic development,” he says.

Sears agrees. “In the last 20 years, policy has shifted, and customary norms and rules have been banned or ignored and replaced by scientific forestry,” she says. “Cultural preservation, which includes spiritual rules and beliefs, is going to be forgotten if people cannot practice.”

Sears and her fellow scientists hope their research leads to the gathering of evidence on the effectiveness of traditional land management practices to share with the government, ultimately seeing these social norms incorporated into policies.

One reason awareness of such practices has disappeared from government offices is the increased urbanization of Bhutanese communities, leading to an erosion of culture and, ultimately, landscapes.

People harvest rice in Dintor, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR

For the past two decades, tree cover has increased by 0.2 percent annually, but not always for good reason. Sears explains that migration is dually caused by factors of push and pull. First, threats posed by wildlife – elephants eating crops and knocking down houses, bears eating livestock, wild boars digging up fields – result in a huge loss of income that pushes people off of their farms. At the same time, the allures of better education and easier work pulls people into the capital Thimphu or other developed areas.

As villages empty of their workers, farmland is increasingly unattended, allowing forests to close in on homesteads, bringing more threats of wildlife and forest fires.

“Food security is a big problem for the government,” says Sears. “Who will grow food? There’s a big push in the next five-year plan to get people back to the farm by modernizing farming, introducing new technologies and greenhouses. The government also wants to go all-organic by 2020 and make rural life more viable with increased phone coverage, better schools and roads.”


The domino effect theorized by Sears and colleagues – with cultural preservation leading to good governance, which drives environmental conservation, and in turn leads to equitable socioeconomic development – was strongly supported by their review of the literature. This backs the idea that forests and their ecosystem services contribute to the four pillars of GNH, supporting Bhutan’s happiness-based development goals.

Although finding empirical evidence of the direct links between forests and GNH was challenging, “the strongest connection in this regard was found in relation to the pillars of good governance and socioeconomic development, particularly through community-based forestry schemes,” says Baral.

As communities act to restore mountainous forest landscapes, boosting essential ecosystem services and protecting from risks of disaster, more research is needed to determine the effects on national development, as defined by the happiness index.

Judging from the research results so far, it could well be a middle path worth taking.

By Gabrielle Lipton, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News

For more information on this topic, please contact Himlal Baral at [email protected] or Robin Sears at [email protected].

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the Republic of Austria.

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  • Agroforestry in landscape restoration for livelihoods, climate and ecosystem services

Agroforestry in landscape restoration for livelihoods, climate and ecosystem services

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The Agroforestry in landscape restoration for livelihoods, climate and ecosystem services Discussion Forum was held at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) Bonn on Dec. 20, 2017.

Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals, the session focused on the accomplishments and future of agroforestry as a path toward sustainable landscape restoration. By offering a route to reconciliation between the frequently competing claims of agriculture and reforestation, agroforestry is playing an increasingly central role in policy-making.

The session aimed to achieve a vital exchange of knowledge on ecosystem functionality, biodiversity, livelihoods and climate change, among other topics. The forum demonstrated the potential dividends for human wellbeing offered by landscape restoration in developing countries.

The session was hosted by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), with Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (HIVOS) and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA).

This video was originally published by the GLF.

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  • Co-investment in ecosystem services: global lessons from payment and incentive schemes

Co-investment in ecosystem services: global lessons from payment and incentive schemes

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This book discusses key lessons from various development stages of landscape stewardship for ecosystem services provision. It focuses in particular on agricultural landscapes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which have not featured prominently in existing literature.

Human use, overuse and neglect are degrading ecosystems, the very fabric which is producing ecosystem services that benefit human well-being, and which allowed natural capital to develop. Stewardships that might ensure ecosystem service provision in agricultural landscapes, are in reality extensively complex and comprise the interaction of social-ecological systems in a world ruled by economic and political feedback. In order to ensure their operationalization and sustainability, empirical cases of landscape stewardship for ecosystem service provisions in Africa and Asia show that incentive-based mechanisms, as a ways of governing the landscape, need to be fair to the actors involved as well as fulfil their main goal of providing ecosystem services efficiently.

A host of rich and diverse empirical cases are the result of more than a decade of field experience with Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa (PRESA) and Rewarding the Upland Poor for Environmental Services (RUPES) in Asia, two projects coordinated by the World Agroforestry Centre. This book highlights the gaps between the theory and the implementation of operational and sustainable ecosystem service incentive-based mechanisms on the ground. It provides and reviews arguments as to why specific forms of payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes (including pro-poor payments, rewards, and co-investment) can be viable approaches toward sustainable land-use practices.

To this end, this book:

  • Provides new insights that support development practitioners with appropriate leverage points so that they may increase the potential of payment for ecosystem service (PES) schemes to deliver the desired outcomes.
  • Stimulates debate among scientists and analysts about PES as a theory of change in the developing-world context and where new models or knowledge are needed.
  • Recommends appropriate interventions for policy-makers to apply PES as a tool for sustainable land governance and management in contexts where poverty is rampant, business activity is low and environmental funds need to be better targeted in providing ecosystem services.

The growing collection of chapters in the book can be viewed here:

Payment for Ecosystem Services

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  • Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

Forest ecosystem services and the pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

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In the eastern Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, culture, society, economy and environment are linked in the development framework of Gross National Happiness (GNH). In this literature review, we highlight the relationships between forests and Bhutan’s development framework and current priorities, identifying plausible causal pathways. Due to the mountainous nature of this country, our particular interest is in the impacts of upstream forest activity on downstream stakeholders.

Our hypothetical framework identifies specific causal pathways between forests and the four pillars of GNH (environmental conservation, cultural preservation, equitable socioeconomic development and good governance), and evidence was sought in the published literature to test the hypothesis. While conceptual support for many linkages between forests and each of the pillars was found in the literature, evidential support specifically for Bhutan is limited. The strongest evidence is found for the role of forests in socioeconomic development and good governance, particularly through the community forestry program.

To develop incentive programs for forest conservation and restoration, such as payment for ecosystem services and pay-for-performance donor funding, the evidence base needs to be expanded for causal pathways between upstream forest condition and downstream security, particularly for services such as water regulation. The evidence should inform public policy and forest management strategies and practices.

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  • Challenges for developing Forest Stewardship Council certification for ecosystem services: How to enhance local adoption?

Challenges for developing Forest Stewardship Council certification for ecosystem services: How to enhance local adoption?

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The rise of ecosystem services (ES) as a conservation and management tool has changed the way forests are conceived, but so far its translation into management actions has been limited. In this paper, we discuss the development of certification of forest ecosystem services (FES) from the perspective of those implementing it at the local level. We focus on the lessons that emerged from applying the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification framework at selected sites in Chile, Indonesia, Nepal and Vietnam.

Our results indicate a clear relationship between local and global levels in the development of FSC FES certification. Although the FSC already had a broad vision of ES, it was only through local-level learning within a specific pilot experiment that the vision evolved and resulted in more formal FES certification becoming part of FSC forest management certification. We also found that those sites where participatory approaches to management and decision-making were applied could work with an undefined vision of the future system, and still successfully design and implement management activities. However, overall the lack of specific vision and detailed information about future FES certification was problematic in attracting market interest in FSC certified ES.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2017.10.001

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  • Mechanisms mediating the contribution of ecosystem services to human well-being and resilience

Mechanisms mediating the contribution of ecosystem services to human well-being and resilience

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Human benefits from ecosystems result from complex interactions between ecological and social processes. People affect ecosystems’ capacity to deliver services that contribute to the well-being of humans and their resilience. The delivery of ecosystem services (ES) has often been considered as a linear and direct flow from nature to people without feedbacks or human inputs. We adjusted the widely used ES cascade to highlight how humans mediate each step in the ES delivery. We then applied the proposed framework to empirical field studies in Indonesia. We focused on the role of forested landscapes to increase rural people’s resilience to climate hazards such as drought and floods. We found that human actions determine benefits from ES through several mechanisms (ES management, mobilization, allocation-appropriation, and appreciation). These mechanisms are influenced by peoples’ decisions along the ES cascade, which depend on specific factors related to rules, assets, values, and spatial context. By facilitating or hindering ES flows, some stakeholders can determine who benefits from ES and influence the well-being of others. A better understanding of the mediating mechanisms, factors, and feedbacks in ES delivery can support the design of sound environmental assessments and sustainable land management practices.

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