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Local knowledge about ecosystems key to grasping landscape multi-functionality: Q & A with Hanna Sinare

Hanna Sinare, researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, SRC and a Focali member, has recently defended her PhD dissertation titled “Benefits from ecosystem services in Sahelian village landscapes”. After the successful defense of her work we took the chance to ask her a few questions about the research she has conducted in agroforestry landscapes in Burkina Faso.

Q: How do you feel after defending your dissertation?

HS: Happy and content, both to have it done and that the discussion at the defense was good. I also feel inspired!

Q: Can you describe what you did during your field research in Burkina Faso?  

HS: I did fieldwork in six villages in northern Burkina Faso. First I held focus groups discussions on key resources (provisioning ecosystem services) harvested in the villages. I also did transects walks, it is a research method which entails walks through the village territories in north-south and east-west directions with 2-4 villagers making regular stops so the local farmers can describe agriculture, vegetation, soils and landscape change.

In the next step of the research I did exercise in focus groups, scoring how different landscape units contribute to different ecosystem services. In January 2016 I was back for a final visit during which I focused on presenting my preliminary results and getting feedback on them, and discussing change in use of ecosystem services over time.

Q: How can your research contribute to the understanding of ecosystem services in the region?

HS: My thesis highlights the multi-functionality of Sahelian village landscapes and their different units, which must be understood and included in, for example, ecosystem services assessments and mappings. If fields with integrated trees and shrubs are mapped as cropland and only viewed as contributing to crop production, then a range of ecosystem services from the integrated trees and shrubs are missed out.

My thesis also highlights that one ecosystem service can have multiple benefits, like cereals that can benefit nutrition if it is consumed for food, of income if its sold, or contribute to insurance when residues are used as fodder for livestock, as livestock has the function of insurance.

Q: Can your research provide any lessons for natural resource management in Burkina Faso?

HS: The multiple functions of the same landscape unit highlights the importance of integrated decision making. This is the reality for the farmers and that is how they do it, but it is not necessarily understood and implemented at higher levels of decision-making. In Burkina Faso, responsibility for natural resources management has recently been decentralized to municipalities, which I see as a potential for more integrated management. However, from what I have read, the success varies from municipality to municipality. Otherwise the responsibility for agriculture, environment and livestock production is separated between three different ministries and government offices at national, regional and provincial level. 

Q: Did your research raise any new questions that you would like to explore?

HS: Related to the assessment of ecosystem services it would be interesting to include regulating ecosystem services to a higher degree than I did in my thesis, for the same landscapes.

More broadly, I think, it would be interesting to think about potential scenarios of a future sustainable food production system in the region according to different stakeholders and with consideration of climate change and changing livelihood opportunities. 

From Thesis Abstract:

Rural people in the Sahel derive multiple benefits from local ecosystem services on a daily basis. At the same time, a large proportion of the population lives in multidimensional poverty. The global sustainability challenge is thus manifested in its one extreme here, with a strong need to improve human well-being without degrading the landscapes that people depend on. To address this challenge, knowledge on how local people interact with their landscapes, and how this changes over time, must be improved. An ecosystem services approach, focusing on benefits to people from ecosystem processes, is useful in this context.

However, methods for assessing ecosystem services that include local knowledge while addressing a scale relevant for development interventions are lacking. In this thesis, such methods are developed to study Sahelian landscapes through an ecosystem services lens.

Read more about Sinare´s thesis “Benefits from ecosystem services in Sahelian village landscapes” and download it here.