A matter of opinion? No, science!
Ecosystem services can best be investigated in tangible applications and situations. Does the forest purify the air? Does it provide protection against erosion? Emphasis can also be placed on other services such as recreation, because people also go into the forest to relax. Depending on who is asked the questions, the fertility of the soil for growing crops or large-scale exports may be the most important issues. Other considerations include the beauty of the landscape, which will attract tourists. Furthermore, forests sometimes have a spiritual significance.
Having insights into the modelled provision of an array of ecosystem services, as well as the local demands for services is key to give voice to the local needs and perspectives on nature, and to identify possible transformative solutions. This is where a divide between urban and rural regions becomes clear. In addition, there is a difference between the scientific assessment of ecosystem services and the ecosystem services identified by the local population.
The household surveys were carried out in a total of 36 villages in collaboration with universities in Laos. However, the surveys had to be postponed several times. First, there was a dangerous storm in the region, which was followed by floods and landslides where many people lost everything they owned.
“Extreme weather events are becoming more and more frequent, revealing the irreplaceable value of ecosystem services – and not just to affected local populations,” says Michael Epprecht from the Hub Southeast Asia.
In this respect, the view of ecosystem services has changed. Local people have become aware that an intact forest landscape would have reduced the impact of the floods and that fish stocks have diminished significantly. Having insights into the modelled provision of an array of ecosystem services, as well as the local demands for services it key give voice to the local needs and perspective on nature, and to identify possible transformative solutions.
Education about ecosystems
One part of the results indicate that environmental education would be a good starting point and that the local population plays a vital role in this. Only people who are well-informed and involved in decision-making can take responsibility for decisions taken.
The study on ecosystem services in Laos provides the scientific basis to initiate a series of co-design processes and to launch future incubators. Its systemic perspective may also help to highlight connections not only locally but also in a wider context.