New digital map of Barotse speaks both the language of scientists and farmers

November 25, 2015

Originally published at Bioversity International

Cattle in the Bartose floodplain, Zambia. Photo: Trinidad del Rio for the Global Landscapes Forum 2014 photo competition

Cattle in the Bartose floodplain, Zambia. Photo: Trinidad del Rio for the Global Landscapes Forum 2014 photo competition

Q&A with Bioversity International scientist Natalia Estrada-Carmona about her work with communities in the Barotse to map their ecosystem services. She and her colleagues are launching the Barotse land type characterization map.

Bioversity International (BI): One of the recent outputs of the ‘Nutrition-sensitive landscape’ project is a gorgeous online map of the Barotse landscape. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes this new map special?

Natalia Estrada-Carmona: Yes, I’m thrilled to share the results of our Barotse research at the Ecosystem Services Partnership conference (ESP8) because it is such a vivid example of how important ecosystem services are for human survival. Particularly in this case, we’re thrilled that we have been able to really integrate local knowledge into the development of the map linking ecological processes with agricultural and conservation opportunities. Here at ESP8, we’ll be highlighting the trade-offs and synergies between sustainable food production and other critical ecosystem services for people living in the ever-changing and very dynamic Barotse floodplain in Zambia.

What do I mean by dynamic? In Barotse, the vegetation, cropping systems, soil quality and water availability is regulated by the intensity and duration of the annual flood pulses. The new map that my colleagues and I have just launched in collaboration with CGIAR’s programs on Aquatic Agricultural Systems and Water Land & Ecosystems, tells us a story of the deep interdependence of food security of the Barotse people with this ecosystem process.

It integrates local and scientific knowledge and facilitates an exploration of the ‘win-win’ situations for a sustained and diversified provision of food production, nutrition and habitat for wildlife among others.

Local communities have provided names for ‘land types’ in the floodplain according to how they behave in the case of a flood, determine the opportunities for agriculture and for ecosystem services. Despite the importance of different land units in local decision-making and peoples’ well-being, there was no integrated and systematically characterized data of Barotse’s land types apart from Piotr Wolski’s remote sensing work from 1996 delineating hydrotopes (areas with similar hydrological responses). To close this knowledge gap, in 2014, our multidisciplinary team got busy: we conducted field work and engaged local men and women in participatory mapping activities, focus groups discussions, field visits and farming systems characterization.

Using what we learned, we produced infographics that depicted general land unit characterizations, planted crops, general soil characteristics and ecosystem services that are provided by 19 land types. This has been an excellent tool to translate local knowledge and make it accessible to the diverse stakeholders involved in agriculture, livestock, conservation and health.

The challenge this year was to use the previously collected information and try to map the nineteen land types using the freely available Landsat 8 Enhanced Thematic Mapper images from 2014. With the support from the University of Wageningen, my colleague Trinidad del Rio, together with stakeholders including local communities, governmental organizations and NGOs extrapolated the local typology across the floodplain. This is in essence, the first map of the Barotse land type use that has ever been developed – its thus a socio-ecological map rather than a purely ecological, hydrological, or land use suitability map.

We are now using it with our partners on the ground to explore scenarios that assess, firstly, the capacity of the landscape to provide diversified and nutritious food that nourishes local communities particularly during food scarce months, and secondly, to make evident the trade-offs and synergies, at farm and landscape scale, between livelihoods, nutrition and ecosystem services, in a language that local farmers and communities understand and can embed in their planning processes.

Read full article here

Copyright 2017 @ CGIAR Research Program - Forests, Trees and Agroforestry