Social Preferences for Wetland Attributes and Its Implications for Agricultural Households Wellbeing in Oueme Delta in Benin
In Benin, Oueme Delta wetlands, as an ecological life support system, play a vital role in contributing to the local population’s livelihood, health and wellbeing. The paucity of knowledge about the value of the Oueme Delta wetlands and their attributes to society, especially to agricultural households undermines the ability of decision makers to develop and implement sustainable wetland use and management policies that maximize societal welfare. To fill that gap, this thesis has been undertaken to reveal to society and specifically to Benin’s wetland managers and policy makers, the value local populations attach to the Oueme Delta wetland attributes, so as to assist decision makers in the decision making process. Attribute-based discrete choice experiment (DCE) approach was used to unveil society preferences for Oueme Delta wetland attributes, from which welfare change implications were derived for agricultural households. The results and their analysis showed that the key Oueme Delta wetland attributes, ranged from the most to the least important based on their contributions to societal wellbeing are: species diversity; cropping area and irrigation facilities; recreation and tourism facilities; and wetland area and their state (habitat). More specifically, agricultural households’ welfare analysis has also indicated the same trends in terms of their preferences for the Oueme Delta wetland attributes. So, it appears that agricultural development, characterized by an increase in land use and irrigation facilities, is not the most important contributor to social welfare in Oueme Delta, rather species diversity. Moreover, the analysis of agricultural households’ welfare changes under different attribute-based wetland improvement policy scenarios reveals that there is an ever important need for policy makers to develop an integrated Oueme Delta wetland improvement policy, which might take into account both the ecological and socioeconomic values of these wetlands for local population wellbeing.
Wetlands, as defined by Ramsar Convention (1982), are “extensions of marshes, fens, bogs or water bodies, natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, where the water is stagnant or flowing, freshwater, brackish or salty including extensions of marine water where the depth is not more than six meters at low tide”. Wetlands cover various types of habitats, including rivers, peatlands, lakes, coral reefs, and floodplains. Wetland ecosystems are part of the world’s most productive environments (Barbier et al., 1997), on which many species of plants, fish, and animals rely for food and survival (Mitsch and Gosselink, 1993). The interactions between the physical, biological and chemical components of wetlands (water, soils, plants, and animals), enable them to perform and deliver several vital ecosystem functions and services (Turner et al., 2000); among which many play essential role in human wellbeing, especially for health and livelihoods (MA, 2005). Wetland ecosystem services can broadly be described as provisioning services: water, food, raw materials; regulating services: waste treatment, maintenance of soil fertility, flood prevention, local climate moderation; supporting or habitat services: nursery, and conservation of gene pool; and amenity and cultural services: inspiration for culture and art, recreation and tourism, and cognitive development (TEEB Foundations, 2010; MA, 2005; Barbier et al., 1997). Humans, then, derive important benefits from natural ecosystems for societal development (MA, 2005; Arrow et al. 1995).
In Benin, a West Africa developing country, the hydrographic network consists of five major basins: Volta, Niger, Mono, Couffo and Oueme. Covering an area of 50,000 km²
with a maximum length of nearly 510 km, Oueme is the Benin’s largest Basin. In its southern part, Oueme Basin with its receptacles, Lake Nokoue and the Lagoon of Porto- Novo, constitute the eastern complex of Benin’s wetlands, an area of international importance (Ramsar site 1018). Aside from the seacoast, lakes and lagoons, this complex covers the Oueme Valley, which has a unique ecosystem called Oueme Delta, along which, the slope of the river becomes extremely low (5m for 85 km) and, it appears as a broad floodplain, where water is available throughout the year.
Oueme Delta wetlands have a vital importance for local populations, particularly agricultural households who derive from them the essentials of their subsistence products, such as fish, wild fruits, crops and vegetables. They are excellent supports for dry as well as rainy season farming, as a result of improvement in productivity, consequence of the use of water and silt, and for other activities such as animal breeding, pisciculture (fish holes), hunting or tourism. Each of the wetland ecosystem service contributes to the households’ food security and welfare, enabling availability of good and services, and providing income from various human economic activities developed around wetlands (Kakuru et al., 2013; Turyahabwe et al., 2013;osSsou-Agbo, 201 3).
Though it is a Ramsar site, the Oueme Delta ecosystem is facing great pressure on its natural resources resulting in hazardous deterioration (Ramsar, 2015) compromising nature. The Oueme Delta wetlands’ functions are thus under threat from population pressures and this situation is threatening its ability to continue to provide goods and services for populations’ livelihood and wellbeing (Daily et al., 2009; de Groot et al., 2012). Wetland depreciation has implicit costs for society, in terms of loss of the benefits provided by these resources to society (TEEB Foundations, 2010; TEEB in Policy, 2011).
1.2. Problem Statement
Ecosystem services are the benefits society derives from nature (MA, 2005). Since the natural environment is required to produce many goods and services, it can be regarded as capital stock, and their services as the interest society receives from that capital (Thampapillai and Uhlin, 1997; Costanza and Daly, 1992). Two essential features characterize capital goods: durability and provision of services over time. Natural capital is durable, and produces services over time (Thampapillai and Uhlin, 1997). Likewise, the value of wetlands and their resources, to society, can be derived from their capacity to provide goods and services and from society’s demand for them (Barbier et al., 2009). It can then be said that changes in natural ecosystems, specifically, changes in their characteristics or attributes, resulting in changes in ecosystem services will impact on human wellbeing (TEEB Foundations, 2010; MA, 2005).
From an economic perspective, wetland managers, as private investors, need to choose a level of wetland resources or attributes to maintain future delivery of ecosystem services, so as to ensure sustainable wetland resource use and human wellbeing, including poverty reduction (TEEB Foundations, 2010; Perrings et al., 2006; TEEB, 2008).
However, sustainable use and management of natural ecosystems are suffering from two failure situations (TEEB Foundations, 2010). Firstly, information failure, which is the case where there is a lack of knowledge about the value of the contribution of natural ecosystems to human wellbeing (Costanza et al., 1997). Secondly, market failure, which is the situation where actual markets fail to provide information about the value of a broad range of ecosystem services, since most natural ecosystems and their resources are non-marketed goods. This limits the ability of markets to provide an accurate information about the
ecological and economic values of natural assets that need to be accounted for in the decision making process regarding natural resource use and management (Barbier, 2007; MA, 2005; TEEB in Policy, 2011). Due to these two failures, there is a lack of information about how changes in the state of natural ecosystems, specifically changes in their attributes affect society welfare, which in turn affects economic decision-making (TEEB Foundations, 2010; Turner et al., 2003). In consequence, in spite of the net improvement in national as well as global awareness about the basic role that natural ecosystems, such as wetlands, play in human wellbeing, they tend to be over exploited, leading to their degradation on a large scale around the world, given that most natural resources are public goods with generally open access (TEEB Foundations, 2010; TEEB Synthesis, 2010; de Groot et al., 2012; Turner et al., 2000). To address these failures and reveal to decision makers useful information about the value of natural ecosystems and their attributes to society, economic valuation of natural capital is required (Costanza et al., 1997; TEEB Foundations, 2010; Hanley et al., 1998). According to Costanza et al. (1989), environmental valuation is difficult and complex but fundamental for sustainable natural resource use and management.
In Benin, the Oueme Delta wetlands, as a “life support system”, provide several types of ecosystem services that are primordial for economic production and society wellbeing (Sossou-Agbo, 2013; INSAE, 2016; de Groot et al., 2002). The benefits derived by local populations from the Oueme Delta wetlands range from their direct use (cropping, fishing, animal breeding, and spiritual or cultural wellbeing); through their indirect use (water regulation, pollination, soil fertility); to their non-use (satisfaction derived from the simple existence of natural resources, and satisfaction derived from the fact that future generations
will also benefit from natural resources) (Barbier et al., 1997; TEEB Foundations, 2010; Sossou-Agbo, 2013).
Moreover, to date in the case of the Oueme Delta wetlands, little is known about the value of their contribution to local population, mainly agricultural households’ welfare and more importantly about the value of their attributes to society.
Agriculture is important to the inhabitants in the Oueme Delta. However, the situational analyses within the wetland reveals that the wetlands have dried up in some areas, there are reduction as well as the disappearance of certain species of fish, plants and animals, there are increased farming activities in the bed of the Oueme River increasing the lack of this Ramsar site, and pollution of water and air. The possible solutions that have been identified and even implemented through public projects and NGOs are: environmental awareness creation, training of local populations on environmental friendly activities, best farming practices, income diversification to reduce the level of dependence of local population on wetland resources, but also several projects aiming at improvement in habitat and species diversity, reinforced by projects for food security and poverty alleviation in the area. However, despite the awareness of Benin’s wetland managers and policy makers about the importance of the Oueme Delta wetlands in terms of their contribution to local population, especially agricultural households’ wellbeing, and their steady efforts, through policies and programmes to maintain the ecological characteristics of these natural resources for poverty alleviation and food security, the Oueme Delta wetland degradation is persistent (Ramsar, 2015), threatening their ecological processes. The ability of policy makers and wetland managers to properly understand the changes in social welfare resulting from changes in the Oueme Delta wetland attributes and to identify priorities
when designing policies both for the Oueme Delta wetland quality improvement and socioeconomic development within that ecosystem becomes ever more important.
1.2.1 The Conceptual framework underlying the thesis
Figure 1.1 presents the conceptual framework of the thesis, showing how natural ecosystems and biodiversity provide services for human wellbeing, and the importance of measuring that wellbeing in terms of benefits and values from various scientific disciplines to inform decision making process to designing and implementing more rational management policies that will impact on direct and indirect drivers of change in natural asset state, so as to maintain a continuous flow of ecosystem services.
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