In a new article published (open access) in Oryx (Howe et al. 2018), we expose why we might disagree over how best to pursue the provision of ecosystem services and the eradication of poverty. We suggest that as the concept of ecosystem services is applied more widely in conservation, its users will encounter the issue of poverty alleviation and, subsequently, be tempted to conceal the trade-offs that the conservation of ecosystem services and poverty alleviation might entail. Modelling our argument on an earlier essay about conservation and poverty (Adams et al., 2004, in Science), we explore the different views that underlie apparent agreement.
We identify five normative positions that reflect different mixes of concern for ecosystem condition, poverty and economic growth:
(1) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that facilitate biodiversity conservation;
(2) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that maintain their functional integrity;
(3) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that protect & secure the existing lives & livelihoods of the poor;
(4) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that bring new benefits to the poor; and
(5) Ecosystems should be managed to deliver services in ways that maximize economic growth.
In the article, we depict the narratives, policy recipes, and the main advocates behind each position, and we suggest that acknowledging these helps to uncover the subjacent goals of policy interventions and the trade-offs they involve in practice. We think that ‘the policy rhetoric on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation, with its search for common causes, can serve to erase or obscure fundamental differences in goals or objectives. Failure to acknowledge differences between these positions obscures choices and risks undermining sustainable and just outcomes’. Therefore, we argue that recognizing the existence of such positions can ultimately support the emergence of more legitimate and robust policies.