South America and Africa to use nature to alleviate poverty

This week researchers from all corners of the globe will come together to discuss ways of tapping into Nature’s ‘treasure chest’ to reduce poverty, deliver sustainable growth and improve the lives of people in the most vulnerable communities, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has announced.

Making the announcement through a press statement, the IIED said an innovative and imaginative workshop, being held at the University of Edinburgh from today to Wednesday (4-6 October, 2010), will make use of video and internet technology to bring the researchers together as part of the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme.

ESPA was launched in December 2009 under the auspices of the Living with Environmental Change partnership with £40 million (US$63.5 million) of investment from the UK ‘s Department for International Development (DFID), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

As well as providing funds, the UK Department for International Development, Natural Environment Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council will play a key decision-making role.
According to Paul van Gardingen, the initiative’s director who is based at the University of Edinburgh, “This is a fantastic opportunity for researchers in developing countries to learn about ESPA so they can submit proposals in the coming weeks.”

He maintains that “ESPA will build important bridges between research communities in South America, Africa and Asia that will enable them to collaborate and share knowledge in a new, exciting way” and that “Their new research partnerships will provide governments with the critical information they need to green their economies and reduce environmental degradation.”

The workshop in Edinburgh has been organised to enable maximum participation for the lowest cost as researchers, journalists and others will be able to participate via a live video link. This not only saves money but reduces the carbon footprint for the event.

Commenting on the ESPA project, Andrew Watkinson, director of the Living with Environmental Change partnership stated that “More research is needed to understand how poor countries can take advantage of Nature’s provisions to deliver benefits to citizens in a sustainable way,” adding that “ESPA aims to benefit these communities by offering practical help in adapting to climate change and helping them to get the most from their local environments.”

Among those who will benefit from the project are South Asian farmers facing changing monsoon patterns and Chinese villagers whose lands are at risk of being turned to desert. Also benefiting will be Africans threatened by drought and South Americans who live on the edges of shrinking rain forests.

The project will entail ESPA training experts from developing countries to cultivate new land management techniques and developing flood resistant infrastructure. It will further encourage research into possible future carbon trading, which may one day enable industrialised countries to pay for forests to be maintained, helping to prevent further carbon dioxide being released.

A central aspect of ESPA’s design is to ensure that the research it supports is relevant and has real impact on the way governments and other decision makers manage the natural resources available to them.

Stating that nature provides many goods and services that improve lives and livelihoods and help communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change, the release informed that forests and other environments store large amounts of carbon in their soil and vegetation and so help to limit climate change, while maintaining clean water supplies and protecting communities from flooding.
It added that wild insects provide a pollination service for many major food crops that is worth over US$100 billion per year, whereas plants are the source of many traditional medicines that could be developed into commercial drugs for global markets.

ESPA is accredited under Living with Environmental Change, which is a partnership of 22 organisations that fund, carry out and use environmental research, including the Research Councils, government departments, devolved administrations and delivery agencies.

Over the next seven years, it is expected to bring natural, social and political scientists together to do innovative research that enables poor nations to harness nature to improve the health, wealth and wellbeing of their poorest communities.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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