March 21st is the United Nations International Day of Forests which celebrates the ways in which forests and trees sustain and protect us. This year’s goal is raising awareness of how forests are key to the planet’s supply of freshwater, which is essential for life.
We therefore thought it was a good opportunity to highlight the excellent results and lessons-learned from the Ecoadapt project “Ecosystem‐based strategies and innovations in water governance networks for adaptation to climate change in Latin American Landscapes” that recently got published in IUFRO’s Occasional Paper No. 30. We extracted the following text from the report. Full reference can be found at the end of this article.
The EcoAdapt Project, funded by the European Commission under its FP7 Research Programme, was a joint undertaking by four research and five civil society organizations from Europe and Latin America. This action‐oriented research collaboration project took place in three Model Forests (MF) in Latin America — Jujuy in Argentina, Chiquitano in Bolivia and Araucarias Altos de Malleco in Chile— largely due to existence of active stakeholder networks in those landscapes. The project focused on identification and implementation of measures that would enhance water security for long‐term local development under the influence of climate change. Implementation of this project took place in a challenging environment of competition between the urgency for improving livelihoods of local people and the need to generate new scientific knowledge. The fear of future conflicts around water was one of the reasons for selecting water and watershed ecosystem services as the central topic of the project.
In Bolivia’s Chiquitano MF, participants recognized the need to address conservation and restoration of water resources. Urban groups and municipal authorities proposed to maintain and restore the dam that supplies water to the urban population of the municipality of Concepcion and the Zapoco watershed. However, rural communities were not interested in restoring the dam because they do not benefit from it: they have only poor quality and inadequate quantity of water and the rural drinking water infrastructure is in poor condition. Building bridges between the two interests was essential to enable a shared watershed management approach which they developed.
In the Aracaurias del Alto Malleco MF of Chile, there was a comprehensive review of the changes in water use over the past 30 years, including the production of electricity, changes in land use, irrigation projects (for agriculture, cattle, fisheries, forestry) and rural projects to provide drinking water. Unequal access to water among different types of uses and users generated the most debate. This included the relationship between land uses and production methods on one hand, and conservation efforts on the other hand. The impact of agricultural activity on the water cycle was also raised as a concern.
Results and lessons-learned
The creation and exchange of knowledge was at the heart of the EcoAdapt Project. Its goal was to influence water management processes through building capacities, sharing knowledge, preventing and mitigating conflicts, and promoting collaboration amongst local and national actors. All stakeholders, including rural and Indigenous Peoples, came on board to learn about the issue as well as discuss and propose what they could do to improve the situation in the future.
In Argentina’s Jujuy MF, local representatives gradually developed a climate change adaptation plan around the ‘Los Diques’ water dam and reservoir. Stakeholders agreed to use environmental tourism as a springboard to improve and secure water quality of the dam. They promoted a solid social and institutional support for the implementation of provincial regulations related to the protected area around the dam; combined economic and ecological incentives; and made an optimal use of capacities and of human and institutional resources.
The following are some of the lessons-learned from the three projects.
- Efforts invested in building multi‐actor platforms and creating conditions for stakeholder cooperation are cost‐efficient because they help to establish trust, a common language and vision, to define the roles and division of tasks, and to reduce future transaction costs.
- The multi-actor platforms emerged through a bottom‐up process, empowered landscape actors and ensured the influence and long‐term impacts of the process they facilitated.
- The project and dialogue process were complex and needed to be simplified and easy to manage. Otherwise, people would have felt overwhelmed and paralyzed by their complexity.
- The process of learning is as important as the content. This applies to raising awareness on climate change.
- It is essential to improve water governance and create more effective and fairer rules with regards to access, use and the distribution of increasingly scarce water resources.
- Policies and laws without roots in and support from civil society are not very effective, and actions on the ground without legal and policy backing also have limited impact.
On the ground:
- Actions at the landscape level (watersheds, ecosystems) have a greater chance of success when supported by environmentally‐friendly production activities in the farms and communities.
- Adaptation to climate change is about reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience of both individuals and groups, and their biophysical ecosystems.
- Agricultural practices need to promote conservation of soil and water to prevent runoff and increase retention of soil moisture. This will reduce the occurrence of floods and drought. At the same time, agriculture should remain economically viable and contribute to climate change mitigation.
The main driving force for local concerted action has been to resolve immediate felt and shared local development needs such as securing access to water, food, fiber, timber, health and livelihoods. These also contributed to strengthening local capacity to adapt to future changes. Hence, the relationship between the goals of climate change adaptation and local development is not linear but interactive. This needs to be an important consideration in the overall climate change plans and pilot actions as Model Forests become more invested in climate change activities.
The concept of climate‐smart landscapes is emerging as a new concept which encompasses all of the different aspects of natural resources management under climate and other stresses. The three Model Forests within EcoAdapt are beginning to show characteristics that fit well with this concept and could become interesting examples of its application.
For more information:
IUFRO Occasional Paper No. 30: Creating and Sharing New Knowledge Through Joint Learning on Water Governance and Climate Change Adaptation in Three Latin American Model Forests: The EcoAdapt Case.
IberoAmerican Model Forest Network: http://www.bosquesmodelo.net/en/publicaciones-del-proyecto-ecoadapt/
Photo credit: EcoAdapt Website