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Forest conservation and the private sector: stakeholder perceptions towards payment for ecosystem service schemes in the tobacco and sugarcane sectors in Malawi

Abstract

The tobacco and sugarcane industries play an important role in the national economy of Malawi. Collectively, they account for approximately 79 and 22% of the national foreign exchange earnings and gross domestic product, respectively. However, the sustainable production of high-quality tobacco and sugarcane has been threatened due to the continued deterioration of forest ecosystems. Considering the importance of tobacco/sugarcane production for the national economy and rural livelihoods, there is an urgent need to implement effectively different forest conservation initiatives in the country. Considering the complex linkages at the interface of deforestation, sugarcane/tobacco production, and economic activity, this is a complicated task that must be undertaken by both the government and tobacco/sugarcane companies. Incentive-based forest conservation management approaches, including Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes, can be one of the approaches that can help curb deforestation. However, there are significant knowledge gaps regarding how the private sector can be meaningfully involved in PES schemes, especially in developing country contexts. This paper draws on expert interviews with multiple stakeholders at the interface of tobacco/sugarcane production and forest conservation in Malawi to highlight the role of the private sector in promoting forest conservation among farming communities and the potential for participating in PES schemes. Different forest conservation initiatives are currently being implemented by the sugarcane and tobacco sector, but are not coordinated. While PES schemes are currently not operational in Malawi, there seems to be a relatively high support among private companies towards such incentive-based conservation mechanisms. The introduction of PES schemes as corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects or on a credit-based form (e.g., as conditionality to access credit for farm inputs or eligibility to be contracted to farm tobacco/sugarcane) could be the most appropriate structures for effectively involving the private sector. Establishing an independent multi-stakeholder PES coordination committee would be necessary for the effective coordination and implementation of such PES schemes. However, any future effort to promote a PES scheme in Malawi needs to informed with on-the-ground knowledge and should be weighed against other forest conservation options.

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Notes

  1. Although not currently observed in Malawi, sugarcane production has been shown to affect water quality and quantity in several parts of Africa, resulting in the degradation of wetland ecosystems (e.g. Hess et al. 2016; Nhiwatiwa et al. 2017; Fernandes and Adams 2016).

  2. It is interesting to note, however, that soil erosion can affect significantly the tobacco/sugarcane sector even if it cannot always directly be linked to deforestation. In particular soil loss, which is an undeniable reality in Malawi, contributes to the decline of soil fertility and agricultural yields (FAO 2016). As a result, tobacco/sugarcane producers need to use larger amounts of inorganic fertilizers to replenish soil nutrients. However, the sugarcane and tobacco several farmers’ associations and cooperatives highlighted that inorganic fertilisers are expensive for most smallholders in Malawi, and can increase production costs and reduce profit margins. Furthermore, the sugarcane and tobacco farmers’ associations and cooperatives pointed out that due to their high prices, some smallholders tend to apply a minimum (or below minimum) amount of inorganic fertilisers, thus compromising the quality, yield and overall income of tobacco and sugarcane.

  3. This is in line with the Malawi Government's Forest Policy (1996) and Act (1997), which promote community participation in the management of forests.

  4. The use of fuelwood and charcoal for cooking can contribute significantly to forest degradation in Malawi, as 90% of the population depends on these traditional fuels (Fisher and Shively 2005; NSO 2012). UNDP Malawi (2007) suggests that 1 L of ethanol can produce the same useful energy as 5 kg of fuelwood or 2 kg of charcoal. Similarly, the use of efficient wood stoves for cooking can reduce fuelwood use by 50% (Bunderson et al. 2009).

  5. Apart from access to wood, forest loss due to tobacco production in Malawi could affect the flow of a number of other provisioning ecosystem services that are important for rural livelihoods (e.g. Mandondo et al. 2014). However, there is critical literature about the motives and effectiveness of such measures considering the extensive use of “nominal self-evaluation (not truly independent evaluators) and public relations to create the impression of social responsibility” (Otañez and Glantz 2011: 403), or their often lop-slided presentation in the media (McDaniel et al., 2016).

  6. However, there is critical literature about the motives and effectiveness of such measures considering the extensive use of “nominal self-evaluation (not truly independent evaluators) and public relations to create the impression of social responsibility” (Otañez and Glantz 2011, p 403), or their often lop-slided presentation in the media (McDaniel et al. 2016).

  7. Woodlots have a clear use value for smallholders, so it is difficult to be viewed as a conventional forest conservation tool. However, by establishing woodlots to source wood for tobacco curing, smallholders reduce pressure to natural forests indirectly, and for this reason it could be viewed as a forest conservation strategy.

  8. The Malawi Government (through the Department of Forestry) also implements annually a national tree planting season to improve the public awareness about the monetary and non-monetary values of forests and nature conservation.

  9. Commoditization entails payment for the actual delivery of specific ecosystem services upon assessment, verification and certification by a third party. Compensation refers to payments for accepting or achieving conditions for a specified environmental outcome (Swallow et al. 2010; van Noordwijk et al. 2012). Co-investment is defined as a non-market driven conditional reward aimed at motivating the adoption of good land use practices (Namirembe et al. 2014).

  10. Excludability usually refers to the ability an actor has in preventing other actors from accessing or benefiting from public goods or common-pool resources (e.g. Ostrom 1990).

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the financial support of the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Sciences (JSPS), JSPS KAKENHI Grant number JP15F15765. We also acknowledge the financial support of the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) for the Belmont Forum project entitled ‘Food Security Impacts of Industrial Crop Expansion in Sub-Sahara Africa (FICESSA)’. We thank Marcin Jarzebski for developing (Fig. 1). Finally, we thank all stakeholders that kindly participated in this study and contributed towards our findings.

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Correspondence to Linda Chinangwa.

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Chinangwa, L., Gasparatos, A. & Saito, O. Forest conservation and the private sector: stakeholder perceptions towards payment for ecosystem service schemes in the tobacco and sugarcane sectors in Malawi. Sustain Sci 12, 727–746 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0469-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0469-6

Keywords

  • Forest conservation
  • Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES)
  • Private sector
  • Tobacco
  • Sugarcane
  • Malawi