Publications > Poverty Times #2 > Realising development

Poverty Times #2

Realising development

There is an increasing consensus that poverty is multi-dimensional. The income-dominated approach to poverty reduction has now widely been acknowledged among development experts as being limited in terms of impact and reach. On the whole, the income-oriented approached has recorded very limited success in reducing poverty. Furthermore, the assumption that benefits obtained from economic growth would reduce poverty by the so-called trickle down effect is coming under increasing criticism. Here we will argue that any poverty reduction schemes should be formulated within the boundaries of ecosystems and ecosystem services. By Thierry de Oliveira and Anantha K. Duraiappah

It is necessary to begin by adopting a fundamental philosophical shift that moves beyond income preoccupation and embraces the concept of opportunities, freedom to make choices and agency – the building blocks of Nobel Laureate Armatya Sen’s Capability paradigm.

A second shift calls for an ecosystem approach which acknowledges the three main services – provisioning, regulating/supporting, enriching – ecosystems provide for human well-being. The ecosystem approach also recognizes that these services are highly inter-dependant and synergistic with each other. For example, over use of the provisioning service will cause deterioration in the supporting/regulating service.

We suggest a comprehensive framework that establishes the link between the capability paradigm with the ecosystem approach will be needed if we are to realistically reduce poverty and improve human well-being in a sustainable manner.

On human well-being and poverty

  • How human well-being and poverty is expressed is context and situation dependent, reflecting local social and personal factors like geography, ecology, age, gender and culture.
  • These local social and personal factors require that human well being be more than just income and opulence. It is multi-dimensional and should also include non-materialistic constitutive constituents like the ability to prevent avoidable diseases, to have access to clean water, the ability to live in a safe environment, the ability to have clean air, the ability to use clean energy for keeping warm and cooking, and the ability to use ecosystems for traditional spiritual practises.
  • Human well being is therefore about the expansion of human capabilities – the ability to achieve what individualshave reason to value.
  • Poverty is the pronounced deprivation of human well-being or in other words the pronounced deprivation of human capabilities.

On ecosystem services

  • Ecosystems are highly diverse and complex systems.
  • Ecosystems provide three critical services; regulating, provisioning, enriching
  • The three ecosystem services are highly inter-dependent and excessive extraction of one service leads to deteriorations in the other services.
  • An ecosystem approach is needed whereby the natural synergies among the various services are respected and management strategies designed that reinforce these inter-dependencies.

On the relationship between human well-being, poverty and ecosystem services

  • Each of the four ecosystem services provides valuable constitutive elements of human well being. The ability for individuals to achieve the various constituents and determinants
    of well-being are directly influenced by their ability to access and use ecosystem services in a fair and equitable manner.
  • The fact that various stakeholders use ecosystem services in various ways and that these stakeholders have different degrees of dependency on these services is critical. Some may have clear substitutes while others have limited options. This calls for ecosystem management strategies to be designed with respect to these variances outlined above, the types of use of ecosystem services and ensure that no stakeholder groups are marginalized in the process.
  • There will be trade-offs to be made between ecosystem services as well as among the various constituents of well being.

On intervention strategies

  • There is a need to move away from a one-size fits all approach to a complex adaptive management strategy that embraces, understands and respects the heterogeneity of ecosystems and people.
  • The use of a policy framework that emphasizes not only economic opportunities, but an integrated framework that also includes social opportunities, participatory freedom, transparency and good governance, protective security in the form of social nets and finally ecological security.
  • The adoption of an integrated policy framework that emphasizes not only the efficient use of ecosystem services but also equity and fairness.
  • A combination of instruments (market and non-market), organizations (public, civil and private) and institutions (formal and informal) will be required in order to provide the working basis for the integrated policy framework.
  • Policy coherence is a critical element if an integrated policy framework is to be successful in achieving the objective of poverty reduction through the sustainable management of ecosystems.

Development frameworks must ensure that the premises outlined above are captured in the implementation process. In determining how to achieve all the above, value judgments have to be made concerning equity and ecosystem stewardship. Such understanding and depth of knowledge will always be needed to inform and support responsible and far-sighted governance.

Thierry de Oliveira leads the Poverty-Environment Programme at unep within the Division of Policy Development and Law. Amongst other achievements, he was instrumental in designing the poverty-environment component of the nepad Environment Initiative. Anantha K. Duraiappah is a senior economist and director of the Economic Policy Programme at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Canada. He is assisting unep with the Poverty-Environment programme and has published many papers.