Environmental Management

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 862–875 | Cite as

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

  • Marta Berbés-Blázquez


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.


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



The author wishes to thank the communities of Volcán de Buenos Aires and Altamira in Costa Rica for their hospitality and enthusiasm. The Canadian Community of Practice in Ecosystem Approaches to Health (CoPEH-Canada), the International Development Research Centre and the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation provided financial support. This article has benefited from comments from Bill Found, Kristine MacKenzie, Ricardo Ramirez, Martin Bunch, Peter Mulvihill, Mark Juhasz, and three anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Environmental StudiesYork UniversityTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Instituto Regional de Estudios en Sustancias TóxicasUniversidad NacionalHerediaCosta Rica

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