The Rubber frontier in Southeast Asia. Photo by Ole Mertz

ESPA-Frontiers: Land-use intensification in forest-agriculture frontier landscapes: effects on ecosystem services and poverty alleviation

Project time period:
December, 2016 to December, 2017

The project is a synthesis of research conducted in the context of the UK funded Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme and looks specifically at how land use intensification affects ecosystem services and well-being in developing countries. Land use intensification refers to interventions to increase the outputs per hectare of crops or livestock. Whilst intensification can occur through local demand for innovation, it is increasingly imposed through policy interventions in forest-agriculture frontiers. 'Sustainable intensification' and 'land sparing' are examples of popular policy narratives that respond to concerns over future food security and planetary boundaries. 

Some of the most rapid change is taking place in forest-agriculture frontiers, often characterized by mosaic landscapes in transition from subsistence to cash-cropping economics, from longer to shorter fallows, and from lower to higher levels of purchased inputs. These rapidly changing social-ecological systems are also places where poverty alleviation and environmental conservation are priority objectives.

However, previous reviews of such transitional landscapes finds that intensification generates more income but also leads to negative outcomes including loss of human and social capital, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. At present we know very little about the trends and patterns of such outcomes, the contexts in which they take shape, or how to improve policy. This knowledge gap about sustainable agriculture and landscapes is well suited to being addressed through a synthesis, firstly because concerns for sustainable agriculture have been central to the ESPA empirical portfolio (Mace 2014) and secondly because ESPA conceptual approaches provide insightful ways to interrogate the wider body of empirical cases.

The synthesis will ask how land use intensification shapes the changing trade-offs between land use, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. This will involve an interdisciplinary working group of experts with strong engagement with key policymakers and practitioners in organisations working on agriculture, conservation and development. Engagement will ultimately lead to knowledge exchange activities that are intended to bring about uptake of research findings and benefits to the wellbeing of the poor. 


GLP Themes: Land governance, Land change trade-offs for ecosystem services and biodiversity , Land management systems

GLP Methods: Synthesis/meta-analysis/meta-study

Principal Investigator(s)