Opinion

Importance of valuing benefits of natural ecosystems


Published : 05 Oct 2021 08:09 PM | Updated : 06 Oct 2021 02:08 PM

Ecosystem services are the goods and services directly and indirectly derived from the green (vegetation- forests, parks, roadside trees) and blue (waterbody- seas, rivers, wetlands) spaces that contribute to human wellbeing. Crops, fisheries, and recreation services are directly consumed or enjoyed whereas soil fertility, pollination, and water purification are indirectly used, the values of which are not reflected in markets. 

Thus, some ecosystem services are of marketed kinds and for some markets are non-existent. For instance, a person can go to a shop and buy flowers, fruits, fish, water, minerals, timber, and what not! But will that very person with a pocket full of money find a marketplace anywhere on earth where flood/storm protection, erosion control, carbon stock, biodiversity protection services are readily available to purchase? The answer is a big No! Nature’s benefits are often undervalued as many of these are invisible to human eyes yet crucial for survival. 

The importance of ecosystems to human wellbeing and to society is easier to understand if any monetary value is attached to the ecosystem services they supply. Assessment and valuation of ecosystem services provide a strong basis for selecting, modifying, and formulating policy instruments and scenarios for ecosystem management and overall ecosystem governance. 

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While there is no agreed single method of classifying ecosystem services; the classifications developed in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) framework are commonly accepted: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services. Provisioning services are the goods humans obtain from the ecosystems, e.g., food, water, raw materials, and medicines. Regulating services include flood prevention, pollution control (air, water, soil), and microclimate regulation among other controls on ecological functions. Supporting services are necessary for the production of other ES such as, nursery services, gene pool control, and production of oxygen. The non-material benefits derived from an ecosystem are regarded as cultural services, e.g., tourism, religious values, education and research. Ecosystem services are location specific, therefore, they vary with the physical and demographic characteristics of ecosystems. For example, the ecosystem services provided by marine ecosystems are significantly different from that of the forest ecosystems. 

For economic valuation, a common unit (e.g., money) for valuing benefits derived from ecosystems is considered. Ecosystem services valuation expresses the importance of natural resources in such a way that makes people rethink about the roles that nature plays in forming personal and social identities and consequences of their actions on the environment. Valuation helps decision making on environmental management options such as, introduce entry fees to a national park or disallow road construction through a forest area to protect biodiversity and assessing damages/benefits associated with such interventions. Thus, there has been an increasing interest on valuing benefits of ecosystems provided to societies, which is reflected in the noticeable growth of related publications and activities. Such research outputs have received widespread attention and have been influential in promoting ecosystem services on policy agendas across the globe; Bangladesh is no exception to this.

 Ecosystem services assessment and valuation is a new arena of research in the context of Bangladesh. Some studies have been conducted rather recently on ecosystem services and human wellbeing, but they predominantly focus on the mangrove/­Sundarbans ecosystem. Very few studies are available on the other forest ecosystems- hill, coastal, Sal, urban. These studies are discrete- mostly led by independent researchers, conducted on relatively smaller scales, and used diverse methods for ecosystem services quantification and valuation. Until now, no integrated study has been undertaken focusing on quantification and valuation of Bangladesh forest ecosystem services.  

 The Community Partnerships to Strengthen Sustainable Development Program (Compass) of the US Forest Service and USAID is assisting the Bangladesh Forest Department (BFD) to formulate a national level forest ecosystem services valuation (ESV) framework for supporting policy decisions regarding natural resources management. 

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Compass brings technical expertise and facilitate discussions among stakeholders including government agencies, development organizations, NGOs, academic and research institutions for guiding the development of the ESV framework. This framework development exercise is expected to foster national capacity development and knowledge transfer. With the guidance of the experts, the program intends to assess the current state of forest valuation practices in the country, identify the data gaps, and apply scientifically and internationally accepted valuation methods to estimate the forest values. Once the ESV framework is developed, Compass intends to train relevant BFD officials and other interested stakeholders to use it and to make decisions using various applications of ecosystem valuation (e.g., payment for ecosystem services, project proposal evaluation, cost benefit and tradeoff analyses). 

Ecosystem services are not something that should be taken for granted as they are essential for the survival of human race. Unplanned and rapid urbanization, climate change (increased extreme weather events), and land use change (increased built-up areas) are often considered as key drivers that directly affect ecosystems and ecosystem services: loss of green and blue spaces, diminished ecosystem services and resilience, and aggravated pollution. 

These in turn affect human wellbeing. Performing economic valuation of non-marketed ecosystem services is challenging but the only solution to bring the unacknowledged benefits of nature to light. The Compass program is addressing the urgent need of assessing the values of forest ecosystems and their services in an integrated way envisaging that the generated knowledge will be used to develop strategies for preventing further degradation and to maintain or improve the contributions of ecosystem services to the residents’ wellbeing. 


Naeema Jihan Zinia is Natural Resource Economics Analyst, USAID/USFS Compass Program

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