An Integra evaluation team recently concluded a mid-term performance evaluation of USAID’s Supporting Forests and Biodiversity (SFB) Project in northeastern Cambodia, under USAID’s REPLACE IDIQ.   The project,  aims to mitigate climate change and conserve biodiversity through improved conservation and forest governance. It is implemented through a cooperative agreement with Winrock International and supported by the East West Management Institute, WWF, People and Forests (RECOFTC), and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Read more

As a Task Order under the REPLACE IDIQ, Integra has conducted a mid-term performance evaluation of the Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West Africa Regional Development Program (STEWARD III), being implemented for USAID/West Africa by the US Forest Service International Program in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire.

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In order for REDD+ programs to be truly effective, communities must take ownership of the process to address deforestation and forest degradation. Accordingly, it is crucial that these programs involve women and indigenous groups in sustainable forest management efforts. This article will discuss the need to build the capacity of both men and women, in domestication techniques and the use of indigenous knowledge systems, to address climate change and its affect on communities. In doing so, international development organizations can better address the issue of sustainable forest management, and ensure that all community members benefit from the results of these mechanisms. Read more

As cellular networks continue to expand throughout the developing world, mobile base stations are increasingly located in rural areas that are often difficult to reach and not connected to electrical grids. As a result, an estimated 640,000 base stations around the world are off-grid. Diesel generators power most of these, but other options exist. This article is the first in a series looking at the relationship between mobile networks and energy. In this entry we take a look at the issues of diesel power and near term possibilities for greener, more sustainable options. Read more

Integra LLC is pleased to announce that it has been awarded an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract for USAID’s Restoring the Environment through Prosperity, Livelihoods and Conserving Ecosystems (REPLACE). This five-year, multi-award contract with an overall ceiling price of $700,000,000 will provide technical services to USAID Missions and operating units to improve the sustainable, long-term management of natural resources.  Read more

USAID Report

A key recommendation by a USAID report that was released in June and titled “Emerging Technology and Practice for Conservation Communications in Africa” is for international development agencies to institutionalize good practice in the use of ICTs for Conservation. The report noted that while the conservation community has a wealth of experience in harnessing ICTs and communications among its many members, the distribution of this expertise is uneven.

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According to a United Nations Environmental Programme –International Water Management Institute report, “An Ecosystems Approach to Water and Food Security”, ecosystem services should be incorporated into food security efforts, as should the proper incentives needed to involve local members of the community.  In part three of our Ecosystem Services series, we take a look at how ecosystems can be better managed and maintained, to play a vital role in nourishing communities around the world. 

As the global population approaches 8 billion people, it will become increasingly difficult to provide a steady supply of food, let alone at a price point the majority of people can afford. In this respect, ecosystems perform a vital function by producing food and providing access to water, thereby increasing food security for communities around the world. For example, it is estimated that a mangrove can yield an annual harvest per hectare of 220 lbs of fish, 44 lbs of shrimp, 33 lbs of crabmeat, 440 lbs of mollusk and 88 lbs of sea cucumber. With food prices predicted to rise an additional 30-50% over the next several decades, ecosystem-provisioning services will be heavily relied upon, particularly in areas of poverty.

In addition to the increased demand on food supply, climate change also has the potential to significantly impact an ecosystem’s ability to produce food, regulate water, and irrigate land (among other functions). Given the provisioning and regulating services ecosystems perform, it is crucial that agricultural areas in particular are managed and maintained to increase resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. For example, small-scale rainwater harvesting in Tanzania has improved agricultural production, and increased the water soil capacity, reducing vulnerability to dry spells. When correctly managed, ecosystems have the ability to resist drought and help prepare for water and food shortages that may occur throughout the year.

The Jordan Valley Permaculture Pilot Project, before and after pictures of when the project began, six months later, and three years later (2003(

Jordan Valley Permaculture Pilot Project: start date, 6 months later, three years later
Photo credit: ProAct (2008)

One example of a natural resource management approach to improving ecosystem services is the Jordan Valley Permaculture Project, implemented by the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. Established in 2008, the project aimed to increase food and water production in the Jordan Valley by rehabilitating the land, known for month-long droughts ranging up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to improve the health of the ecosystem, a swale system, or land contouring system, was used to help the land trap water in the soil during the winter months to be used during summer droughts. Drought and salt resistant crops were also planted to better trap water in the soil. Using this system over 10 acres of land, the project was able to increase freshwater sources and overall food production. This can act as an important lesson in natural resource management, particularly for dry lands, which support one-third of the global population, up to 44 percent of the world’s cultivated systems, and approximately 50 percent of the world’s livestock.

Not only are ecosystems a vital source of food and water, but for poor and rural populations in particular, they are also a crucial source of income. Better-managed fisheries for example, can increase revenue by improving the fish supply. Water regulation is also very important, to enhance food production and provide water for livestock, fish farms, etc. Whether a community’s food supply is mainly a source of nourishment or a source of income, the livelihood of that population is greatly dependent on a given ecosystem’s ability to function properly. It is therefore very important that community members, farmers and fishermen, are also kept informed about natural resource management tools they can utilize.

As the world continues to rely on the provisioning and regulating services ecosystems provide, it will become increasingly important to ensure the health of ecosystems, and control for environmental degradation wherever possible. Environmental policy tools such as payment for ecosystem services, and economic valuation strategies can assist in this effort by making it easier to provide incentives for this purpose. In the forth blog of our Ecosystem Services series, we will look into how ICTs can help support such policies, involving a variety of players from corporate leaders to local farmers, in natural resource management.

Stay tuned next week for the final blog of our Ecosystem Services series, “ICT for Ecosystem Management and Environmental Policy”.

Red Cross volunteers monitor the growth of mangroves in Vietnam to reduce the effects of typhoons and large waves

Red Cross volunteers monitor the growth of mangroves in Vietnam to reduce the effects of typhoons and large waves. Photo credit: IFRC

Healthy ecosystems and the services they provide help reduce a community’s risk to natural disaster. Conversely, poorly functioning ecosystems increase this risk, ridding a community of its natural protective barriers. As part two of our Ecosystem Services Series, we’ll be taking a look at the role ecosystem services can play in disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Ecosystem services such as flood regulation for example, have the potential to reduce risk in a variety of natural disasters. For example, mangroves have the ability to reduce wave energy of tsunamis up to 70%, and off-short drift and sedimentation help create barrier islands to provide protection for coastal communities. Most ecosystem services for DRR belong to the category of regulatory services, and are greatly impacted environmental degradation. Accordingly, it is important that ecosystems be managed properly, to increase the level of protection they are able to provide.

In addition to their DRR-related benefits, ecosystem services are also a cost-efficient alternative to hard-engineering solutions for natural resource management. China for example, spent $3.15 billion in flood control over the course of four years, avoiding $12 billion that would have incurred otherwise.  Similarly, forests also provide an array of ecosystem services with large economic benefits, particularly in avalanche-prone areas. It is estimated that by breaking up snow cover and preventing wind-blow drifts, approximately $100 per hectare per year is saved in areas of open land, while more than $170,000 per hectare per year is saved in areas with valuable assets.

The Coastal Community Resilience (CCR) Initiative exemplifies a DRR program that incorporates both ecosystem services and natural resource management. Implemented throughout the Indian Ocean region, CCR takes a collaborative approach to build resilience to disaster, across the environment and coastal management sectors, involving both government and civil society organizations.  It is also important to involve members of a given community, since the majority of environmental degradation results from human actions. Processes such as deforestation or grazing for example, decrease an ecosystem’s ability to perform regulating services efficiently, thereby increasing a community’s risk for disaster. Poorer communities are often more vulnerable to disaster, as their livelihoods depend on many of the other services ecosystems provide, such as food production and income generation. In this respect, natural resource management can play a crucial role in preserving ecosystems, ensuring their functionality for DRR.

Given the amount of damage and loss of life caused by natural disasters, it is important to recognize both the social and fiscal benefits of ecosystem services for DRR. This is not to imply that ecosystem services alone can sufficiently protect against natural disasters, as a combination of hard and soft engineering is most likely also necessary to build up adequate resilience. Areas of natural resource management such as biodiversity conservation and proper land management are also necessary to sustain the quality of life within an ecosystem. It is therefore important that policy officials and community members are informed of the benefits ecosystems have the potential to supply. With the proper knowledge and plan of action, ecosystems can be sustained to better defend populations from disaster worldwide.

Stay tuned next week for the third blog of our Ecosystem Services series, “Natural Resource Management for Increased Food Security”.

The four categories of ecosystem services, and examples of those services, as defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005.

Ecosystem Services: Categories and Examples

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services are defined as the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, split into four categories of provisioning, supporting, regulating and cultural services. Because they are so beneficial in a variety of ways, the international community has begun to monitor and monetize these services, in addition to advocating for environmental sustainability.

Each category of ecosystem services provides a certain type of benefit to the global population.

  • Provisioning services are often described as ecosystem goods, and refer to benefits such as food production.
  • Supporting services are services that enable other categories to work, including but not limited to nutrient production and habitat provision.
  • Regulatory services, such as carbon storing, are processes often considered to be public goods, and are perhaps the most difficult to measure.
  • Lastly; cultural services refer to social aspects of the ecosystem, such as the services sacred land provides and eco-tourism.

As climate change increasingly warrants international attention, a system that measures and monitors the benefits of ecosystem services will prove to be more necessary than ever before. In addition to having a set measurable indicators, it will also be valuable to monetize these services for both the public and private sector.  Fortunately, some of the information and technology needed to perform these functions are already in development. The US Department of Agriculture for example, recently launched Comet 2.0, a web-based tool to help farmers estimate farm-specific carbon sequestrations and net greenhouse gas emissions from soils, biomass, annual crops, and fossil fuel usage.  Another tool, the i-Tree, allows municipalities to monetize the value of urban trees, and is used in over 6,000 communities worldwide for city planning initiatives.

Recognizing the monetary value of ecosystem services, the private sector has also begun to show their commitment to the environment as part of an overall business strategy. This past June at the Rio+20 Summit, 24 global Fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola, Dell, General Motors and Xerox, released a report called The New Business Imperative: Valuing Natural Capital. The report, sponsored by the Corporate Eco Forum and The Nature Conservancy, urges businesses to recognize how their companies are dependent on ecosystem services in a range of areas, from supply chain to cost savings.  Complete with a commitment from each company involved, the report estimated the world’s ecosystem contributes about $72 trillion in goods and services per year to the global economy.

While ecosystem services may be a relatively new topic on the environmental agenda, the momentum behind the discussion is building. In fact in February 2012, the UN Statistical Commission recently approved the System for Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) to account for material natural resources in a nation’s economy. It should be noted however, that an internationally accepted method of accounting for ecosystem services, as opposed to goods and materials, does not currently exist.

Because this is an increasingly important topic with a potential impact on Environmental Natural Resource Management (ENRM), we’ll be taking an in-depth look at ecosystem services in the areas of disaster risk reduction, food security, health and technology. Each week, we’ll look at specific areas of ecosystem services and how they fit into the larger development picture.


Photo credit: Sustainable Futures

980 million people traveled internationally in 2010, a 4% increase over the previous year, and forecasts expect 1.6 billion tourists by the year 2020. Travel & Tourism as a sector accounts for 258 million jobs globally, and provides crucial opportunities for investment, economic growth, and fostering cultural awareness.  Tourism can also be a powerful tool for tackling major challenges such as conservation and poverty alleviation.

But how do environmentally and socially conscious travelers navigate the complex differences between ecotourism, sustainable tourism, socially responsible tourism and the other myriad forms of traveling responsibly?

Ecotourism vs Sustainable Tourism

Industry consensus agrees ecotourism is more focused on ecological conservation and educating travelers on local environments and natural surroundings, whereas sustainable tourism focuses on travel that has minimal impact on the environment and local communities. Ecotourism is a form of tourism, or a category of vacation similar to beach, adventure, health, or cultural, while the concept of sustainability can be applied to all types of tourism.

As established by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, ecotourism is “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Another widely cited definition of ecotourism is “purposeful travel to natural areas to understand the culture and natural history of the environment; taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem; producing economic opportunities that make the conservation of natural resources beneficial to local people.”

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism practices around the world. GSTC and its global members of UN agencies, global travel companies, hotels, tourism boards and tour operators follow the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The 23 criteria focus on best practices to sustain natural and cultural resources, maximize social and economic benefits for the local community, and minimize negative impacts to the environment.

Currently there is no internationally accredited body charged with overseeing the standards, monitoring and assessment, or certification for the ecotourism or sustainable tourism industries. Without an established standard it is easy to be confused by organizations that greenwash services and offerings as “environmentally friendly.” Others argue that ecotourism is an oxymoron, as travel implicitly entails activities that are detrimental to the environment. Planes, trains and automobiles use harmful fossil fuels that emit CO2, and forestland is often cleared for roads and railways.

Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism in Action

Photo Credit: Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica was a pioneer in ecotourism and exemplifies how tourism can be a key pillar of economic development policy. Costa Rica is now the premiere destination for ecotourism, and in 2010 tourism contributed 5.5% of the country’s GDP. Jordan serves as another model of successfully integrating conservation and socio-economic development. Ecotourism generated $2.1 million in 2010, and Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has received several global awards for its success in alleviating poverty and creating employment for local communities, in combination with integrating nature conservation.

Myriad sites offer options for tours and hotels that cater to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable type of traveling experience. The New York Times travel section allows viewers to search potential destinations using ecotourism as a criteria, and Condé Nast Traveler highlights Ecotourism and Sustainable Travel under Expert Travel Tips.

The Earthwatch Institute, organizes trips where travelers work alongside scientists and explorers on field expeditions and Sierra Club’s travel arm Sierra Club Outing allows environmentalist to learn something on vacation and inflict minimal harm on the surrounding environment.

At the industry level, hotels and resorts are taking on sustainability commitments that focus on recycling, decreasing water and energy usage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions,and environmentally friendly design. Many in the industry show a commitment to a holistic approach to sustainability which includes  the construction of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, providing eco-friendly and organic food and wine selections, and rewarding guests who make “green choices.” Marriott, which boasts 2,800 hotels worldwide, offers guests hotel points or vouchers for the hotel restaurant should they choose to not having linens and towels washed daily.

Understanding the difference between sustainable tourism and ecotourism educates travelers on the significant impact their travel decisions have on the environment, economy and local communities they visit. Participating in sustainable tourism, or more specifically ecotourism vacations, means travelers can contribute to development and conservation efforts, while enjoying themselves on vacation.

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