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  • Estimating water user demand for certification of forest watershed services

Estimating water user demand for certification of forest watershed services

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Eco-certification is one solution to the common problem of verification of delivery of services in payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes. Certification incurs costs, which may limit uptake, so it should be able to benefit users of certified services for it succeeds. In part to inform a project targeting expansion of the Forest Stewardship Council’s forest management certification to include ecosystem services, we tested market demand for a potential certification scheme for watershed services. Using choice experiments among end-users of water subject to an existing PES scheme in Lombok, Indonesia, we assessed potential business values of certification. Our results suggested that preferred business values included credible information disclosure on improved water quality, reduced flood risk, environmental safeguards, and/or social safeguards of the upstream forests. These preferences indicate potential demand for a certification of forest watershed services designed to provide such information to end users.

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  • Taking stock of ecosystem services in the mountains of southern Asia

Taking stock of ecosystem services in the mountains of southern Asia

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Ribangkadeng village in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, is pictured from the air. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR
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A mountainous landscape is seen from above in Lampung, Indonesia. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR

Mountain forest ecosystems provide a wide range of benefits, not only to local residents, but to those living downstream: from reducing floods to stabilizing slopes and supporting rich biodiversity.

Understanding these contributions is key to sustainably managing mountain forest services — but large-scale assessments are still rare, especially in data-poor regions.

In response, scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner institutions, including from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), compiled in a new working paper the most relevant tools and approaches to assess the sociocultural, economic and ecological values of mountain forest ecosystems, with a focus on southern Asia.

“This working paper wants to help researchers and land managers understand the various assessment methods, so that they are able apply them in their own countries and landscapes,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist, Himlal Baral of FTA.

Understanding the direct and indirect benefits of forest ecosystems to human well-being is important globally, but especially so in mountainous areas, as illustrated in the paper by case studies in Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Iran and Nepal.

Steep slopes and elevation create geographical barriers to accessing mountain forest landscapes, meaning that “local communities are isolated from urban areas, and so rely heavily on mountain forest ecosystem services for basic needs such as food,” explains Baral. In many cases, mountain people are also more vulnerable to climate change and poverty, he says.

At the same time, natural geographical barriers often result in communities with their own distinct cultures and social systems, and in “more primary forests, higher carbon stocks and richer biodiversity compared with lowland areas,” states the paper.

Read also: Approaches and tools for assessing mountain forest ecosystem services


Gauging stakeholders’ perspectives, analyzing markets and scenario modeling are three ways of assessing ecosystem services. “Some of these approaches are simple, user-friendly and readily available,” Baral points out. “Even people with little experience and technical expertise can use them.”

The various tools falling into these three categories are differentiated in terms of required data, technical capacity, time and cost, and “have their own strengths of being able to assess a particular value,” notes the paper.

This means they can be jointly implemented to assess multiple values of mountain forest ecosystem services, and to shed light on the trade-offs and synergies between them. For example, “restoration efforts to enhance one service could compromise — or improve — another service.”

A case study in Nepal’s community forests, for instance, illustrates the combination of free-access satellite images, repeat photography, and participatory approaches to engaging local communities and experts.

The paper indicates this three-pronged approach “can be used to quickly map and prioritize ecosystem services’ values,” and to demonstrate the positive impact of restoration efforts over the last two decades.

In Bhutan, a tool known as benefit-transfer showed that the average total value of forest ecosystem services was over USD 14.5 billion per year, while in India, stakeholder and household analyses revealed that local livelihoods near the Maguri Mottapung wetland hinge on 29 ecosystem services — something that “suggests the urgent need for a participatory management plan engaging local communities.”

Ribangkadeng village in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, is pictured from the air. Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR


For Laxmi Dutt Bhatta, a senior ecosystem management specialist at ICIMOD and co-author of the paper, the assessment of ecosystem services is key to “showing the overall value of forests to countries and communities; to following up their evolution, and to informing decision-making.”

Co-author Sonam Phuntsho, who is a senior forestry officer at the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER), agrees: “Forests are a critical natural asset in Bhutan, where the majority of the population directly depends on forests for various services. But there is very limited information on their value so far.”

From Phuntsho’s perspective, having an overview of studies and methodologies in the region is now “extremely useful” for the country, as payment for ecosystem services is gradually picking up.

In Indonesia, the so-called Q methodology has helped lay the ground for payment of ecosystem services by identifying stakeholders’ anticipated benefits and concerns, while the study in Nepal “could be very much replicated in Bhutan, given the rapid increase in community forests,” Phuntso says.

Read also: Forest Landscape Restoration in Hilly and Mountainous Regions: Special Issue


Assessing mountain forest ecosystem services brings opportunities, but also challenges that must be reflected in assessment design.

These include the complexity of defining and classifying ecosystem services, intricate relationships among services including trade-offs and synergies, and the limitation of assessments to build successful payments for services.

Bhatta highlights two additional issues that will have to be addressed to understand the evolution of such services in the next 50 years: uncertainties associated with climate change and the scarcity of data on mountain forest ecosystem services, especially in data-poor regions such as South Asian mountains, and the Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Despite these challenges, lead author Himlal Baral is hopeful about the future of ecosystem service-based management. “In the past, forests just meant timber to many, but awareness is increasing,” he says.

“Now, a growing number of people associate forests with mitigation of climate change, water, biodiversity and landslide protection, so we are moving in the right direction.”

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Himlal Baral at

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 Austrian Development Agency (ADA).

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  • Can agroforestry landscapes reduce the risk of floods?

Can agroforestry landscapes reduce the risk of floods?

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Floods become a normal part of life when floodplains are converted. Photo by ICRAF
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Floodplains along rivers protect areas downstream from flooding. Photo by ICRAF

There is a lack of evidence of the effects of trees on reducing, or worsening, floods. Arguments continue about whether the research results that do exist from small-scale studies also apply at larger scales. A new technique is proving useful for finding evidence and better predicting trees’ role in flood mitigation.

Not surprisingly, humans have found the subject of floods of compelling interest, especially the extent to which removing trees from a watershed increases or decreases the risk of flooding. The pros and cons of deforestation have been hotly debated over the last 100 years and the basic concepts go back 2000 years.

The debate oscillates between strong over-generalizations — encapsulated in statements such as ‘forests are good for any aspect of water’ — to disbelief in anything not supported by strong evidence.

For CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientist Meine van Noordwijk of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the challenge in the debate is properly understanding things at scale. Does deforestation increase the risk of flooding from small to large scales — and even can any flood be attributed to removing or adding trees — or is the evidence primarily valid only at the scale of measurement and not necessarily beyond?

For example, can the results of research in a small catchment be applied across a much larger landscape and help to decide whether more or less trees are needed to reduce flooding, or whether they have any effect at all?

Watch: Play it cool with symposium recordings

A new article in the journal, Hydrology and Earth System Science, explores the middle ground in the debate and offers scientists an easier way of predicting river flow from rainfall and, consequently, the likelihood of flooding.

In the articles, Flood risk reduction and flow buffering as ecosystem services: I. Theory on flow persistence, flashiness and base flow; II. Land use and rainfall intensity effects in Southeast Asia, a team of authors from the World Agroforestry Centre and Wageningen University explain that a new ‘flow persistence’ metric matches local knowledge on watershed degradation as leading to loss of predictability of flow.

Bad floods can disrupt traffic. Photo by ICRAF

It is correlated with two metrics that have been used before: a ‘flashiness’ index as indicator of catchment health; and a ‘base flow’ metric that represents the opposite aspect of continued flow in dry periods. The empirical relationship between these two metrics depends on the context: terrain and details of rainfall patterns. The flow persistence metric can be derived from any period of consistent river flow measurements.

Of course, the more data, the more accurate the estimates will be but data requirements are much less than for the models that have been used so far. This is a good step in the right direction for better understanding how catchments work and how flooding can be reduced.

“Good quality data on river flow is scarce for many tropical watersheds,” said Van Noordwijk, lead author of the study, “so we need to first of all rely on consistency of interpretation and robust indicators of ‘buffering’ as the key process linking floods to rainfall. What we presented is a simple metric called ‘flow persistence’. Where its value is high, it means that only a small fraction of peak rainfall comes to the river the same day; when it is low, peak river flow will be high but will rapidly decline after that.”

Co-author Betha Lusiana, who heads ICRAF’s ecological modelling unit in Indonesia, explained that, “When we applied this method to cases in Southeast Asia, we found that annual variations in rainfall are such that effects of land cover on river flow in anything other than a small catchment can only be asserted statistically with long-term data. Lack of evidence of effects is not the same as evidence of lack of effects, as Sherlock Holmes already noted.”

Floods become a normal part of life when floodplains are converted. Photo by ICRAF

There is a lot of interest in “restoration”, but we need metrics of where it is most relevant.  The Flow Persistence method makes it easier for scientists to gather and analyse data extrapolate it across whole landscapes. This improves the ability to predict effect on river flow, and the potential for flooding, if trees in the form of agroforests are put back into large-scale, deforested landscapes.

This, too, is an area of research which hasn’t been fully studied at large scale yet such knowledge is in increasing demand to meet the needs of the various global programs aimed at rehabilitating the many millions of hectares of degraded landscapes.

“When forests are removed and the land is used for agriculture or other purposes, we observed that the flow persistence decreases when the soils no longer absorb all the rain,” explained Lisa Tanika, who is ICRAF’s hydrologist in Indonesia, “whereas agroforestation, which returns trees to the landscape, can induce a restoration of hydrological functions but it will take 5-to-10 years to see the effects.”

Being able to predict more accurately the restoration of such functions that are provided by different combinations of tree species in landscapes increasingly stressed by extremes of climate will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of rehabilitation programs.

The findings come at an appropriate time, following on from a recent, ground-breaking symposium that brought to the world’s attention the importance of forests and agroforests in the production of atmospheric moisture, a role second only to the world’s oceans in the global water cycle.

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“Rather than think of trees only as things that soak up carbon and reduce the harmful effects of greenhouse gases, which is how international bodies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change see them,” argued Van Noordwijk, who was a key presenter at the symposium.

“We need to shift the focus to their role in the water cycle, something especially important for an increasingly hot and dry world. The Flow Persistence metric is a small but important part of such a shift.”

By Rob Finlayson, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World

This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

We would like to thank all donors who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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