Valuing forest ecosystem services: A training manual for planners and project developers

This new training manual provides both robust theoretical background information and detailed practical applications for dealing with the challenge of valuing forest/tree based ecosystem services.

Photo: FAO

Forests and trees provide multiple ecosystem services that are crucial for human well-being and play a critical role in achieving the goals defined by many International Conventions, including the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite growing attention, recognition and initiatives by the policy makers, academia, private sector and civil society, ecosystems and biodiversity continue to be under threat and suffer degradation and losses due to multiple direct and indirect drivers.

Many of these drivers are critical in countries like Bangladesh where poverty, high population density, reliance on resource-intensive development, and environmental degradation pose serious challenges to the livelihoods, health and quality of life of its citizens. Ecosystem degradation ultimately impairs the capacity of ecosystems to sustainably deliver services, especially to the poor people who are dependent upon them. Ecosystem degradation therefore contributes to growing inequities and disparities across groups of people. Sometimes it is recognised as a principal factor causing poverty and social conflicts.

Ensuring the sustainability and enhancing the supply of goods and services from forest and tree-based ecosystems is increasingly gaining relevance and efforts are underway to promote their sustainable management. Specific expertise is needed in monitoring ecosystem services, valuing their economic contribution, and designing instruments to be linked to policy-making and development projects. Valuing and accounting ecosystem services need further improvement and integration in project formulation and appraisal, particularly to assess how ecosystem services could be affected (in positive or negative ways) by project activities.

Why does ecosystem service valuation matter?

Lack of appropriate ecosystem service valuation and not using the results of such valuation in decision-making may lead to over-exploitation of the resource stocks that generate those services. This is particularly relevant when designing a project/investment or when choosing among alternative policy interventions. Valuation can help to assess the relative importance of different ecosystem services, setting-up priorities, informing decision-makers, guiding budgeting and resource allocation (financing, subsidies, investments etc.), and management of potential trade-offs among ecosystem services and consequent conflicts among their beneficiaries/users.

Why another manual?

The volume of literature on ecosystem services has been growing rapidly in recent years, especially in the backdrop of several initiatives including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES). While the capacity for valuation of services has grown at a higher level in some countries, it needs further strengthening at field level in some others, such as Bangladesh. This manual aims to contribute to enhancing the capacity of valuation of ecosystem services at this level and better use of its results in decision-making.

Who is this manual for?

The manual targets the officers in planning units as well as field level officers/practitioners in other key government departments who are responsible for project development and implementation, including the Ministry of Environment and Forests and its agencies. Considering the specific needs of the training in Bangladesh, case studies are tailored to the Bangladesh context where possible. Concepts, methods and approaches in the manual, however, can be applied to a broad spectrum of situations.

What does this manual provide?

The manual provides both robust theoretical background information and detailed practical applications and insights for dealing with the challenge of valuing forest/tree based ecosystem services. It includes a number of examples, case-studies and exercises showing how to perform ecosystem service valuation in practice and inform the decision-making process.

The tools and exercises included in the manual have been used in a training course on “Economic Valuation of Forest-based Ecosystem Services in Bangladesh.” The training was organised and delivered by FAO and TESAF Department (University of Padova, Italy) on 16-18 May 2017 at the Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. The manual also benefitted from feedback received from the training participants.

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Davide Pettenella
Davide Pettenella is full professor at the University of Padova, Italy, where he teaches forest economics. He has published more than 400 papers through his research activities and field work within programmes financed by the European Commission, FAO, European Forestry Institute, World Bank, and by Italian national and regional institutions.