Article

Environmental Management

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 862-875

First online:

A Participatory Assessment of Ecosystem Services and Human Wellbeing in Rural Costa Rica Using Photo-Voice

  • Marta Berbés-BlázquezAffiliated withFaculty of Environmental Studies, York UniversityInstituto Regional de Estudios en Sustancias Tóxicas, Universidad Nacional Email author 

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Abstract

Human well-being is intricately connected to ecosystem services. A keystone contribution to the ecosystem service literature has been the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, MA, (Ecosystems and human well-being: a framework for assessment, Island Press, Washington, DC; 2003, 2005). Much of the work on ecosystem services to date has focused on the assessment and classification of environmental functions. The need for inclusion of community perspectives in ecosystem assessments has been widely recognized in order to better understand the distribution of impacts and benefits resulting from natural resource use. Communities can offer a direct route to understanding the complex relationships between ecosystems and human well-being and how environmental management affects their livelihoods. Photovoice has been made popular as a tool for participatory needs assessment but it has had limited use in ecosystem assessments to date. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to present the results of a community-level assessment of environmental services in a watershed dominated by pineapple monoculture in Costa Rica; and (2) to evaluate the strengths and the limitations of photovoice as a tool for mapping the relationship between ecosystems and people. I argue that photovoice is an underutilized methodology that has the potential to complement biophysical ecosystem service assessments in the context of impoverished and resource-dependent communities, particularly, since assessing ecosystem services and acting upon that information requires integrating the knowledges of diverse stakeholders, recognizing power imbalances, and grappling with the complexity of social-ecological systems. Processes such as photovoice have the potential to catalyze community self-organization, which is a critical component for empowerment.

Keywords

Ecosystem services Community-based research Photovoice Costa Rica Pineapple monoculture Ecosystem benefits Volcan River watershed