When not only coffee is the future

2020-02-03 Together with stakeholders in southwest Ethiopia, Leuphana ecologists have developed four agricultural future scenarios for the region. The aim now is to determine the benefits and consequences of these visions for biodiversity and people. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with almost one million euros.

The monetary value of ecosystem services is increasingly being calculated. Bee pollination alone is worth billions. However, the question of who benefits from what humans receive and extract from ecosystems is less frequently asked. Landscape ecologists Jörn Fischer, Dave Abson and Jannik Schultner now address this issue in a rural region in southwest Ethiopia. Due to crop failures, also caused by climate change, the food supply of the local population is not permanently secured. Together with local stakeholders, i.e. small farmers, NGOs or government representatives, the scientists have already developed four possible future scenarios for the region in a previous project, in which ecosystem services play a central role. They are now to be tested. The project "ETH Coffee - Towards a Sustainable Bioeconomy: A Scenario Analysis for the Jimma Coffee Landscape in Ethiopia" is being funded for three years by the Federal Office of Education and Research with about 990,000 euros.

Coffee, eucalyptus and khat

Coffee is the region's most important export product and is therefore considered a valuable ecosystem service. However, khat, a legal chewing drug, also plays a central role in the economic survival of local farms. In the first scenario, so-called cash crops are cultivated: coffee, eucalyptus and khat. The second scenario involves a large coffee investor, possibly with a global background. The third scenario combines agriculture with a biosphere reserve. The fourth vision focuses on food production. "None of the scenarios can be considered ideal, each has advantages and disadvantages. A vision of the future, however, can help to plan it better," explains Jörn Fischer, Professor of Sustainable Land Use.

The researchers raise three central questions: Who benefits from nature? Who influences it? And where are those people located? "It is quite possible that, for example, coffee exports are flourishing, but the local smallholders hardly benefit at all," says Jörn Fischer. The scenarios were developed in the preceding project "SESyP - Identifying social ecological system properties benefiting biodiversity and food security" funded by the European Research Council (ERC) in cooperation with the people of Ethiopia. In the current project, the aim is now to substantiate the vision. "We will analyse geographically which ecosystem services are generated in the landscape", explains Dr. Jannik Schultner, member of the Institute of Ecology. To this end, the researchers map the landscape and its natural resources such as forests or coffee plants. Using the collected data and computer models, they can estimate the consequences of future scenarios, for example on biodiversity. The region is still considered a biodiversity hotspot. At present it is not clear how a change in land use could affect species diversity. "We want to make our results available to local stakeholders as a decision-making aid," explains Dave Abson, assistant professor of sustainable economics. 
The team of almost ten researchers is made up of German and Ethiopian scientists. In addition, close cooperation with local actors will be maintained throughout the project, ensuring that the results will be of direct practical use in Ethiopia.

Landscape ecologists ©Leuphana/Patrizia Jäger
Landscape ecologists Jörn Fischer, Dave Abson and Jannik Schultner.

Further information

Institute of Ecology


Prof. Dr. Jörn Fischer

Prof. Dr. Dave Abson

Dr. Jan­nik Schult­ner