Management Practices for Dealing with Uncertainty and Change : Social-Ecological Systems in Tanzania and Madagascar

Abstract: The development of human societies rests on functioning ecosystems. This thesis builds on integrated theories of linked social-ecological systems and complex adaptive systems to increase the understanding of how to strengthen the capacity of ecosystems to generate services that sustain human well-being. In this work, I analyze such capacity in human-dominated production ecosystems in Tanzania and Madagascar, and how this capacity is related to local management practices. Resilience of social-ecological systems refers to the capacity to buffer change, to re-organize following disruption, and for adaptation and learning. In Papers I and II, qualitative interview methods are used for mapping and analyses of management practices in the agroecosystem of the Mbulu highlands, Northern Tanzania. Practices such as soil and water conservation, maintenance of habitats for pollinators and predators of pests, intercropping, and landscape diversification, act to buffer food production in a variable environment and sustain underlying ecological processes. The practices are embedded in a decentralized but nested system of institutions, such as communal land rights and social networks, that can buffer for localized disturbances such as temporary droughts. Paper II compares these findings with practices in a farming system in Sweden, and suggests that similar mechanisms for dealing with uncertainty and change can exist in spite of different biophysical conditions. In Papers III and IV, interviews are combined with GIS tools and vegetation sampling to study characteristics and dynamics of the dry forests of Androy, southern Madagascar. Paper III reports on a previously underestimated capacity of the dry forest of southern Madagascar to regenerate, showing areas of regeneration roughly equal areas of degenerated forest (18 700 ha). The pattern of forest regeneration, degradation, and stable cover during the period 1986-2000 was related to the enforcement of customary property rights (Paper III). Paper IV reports on a network of locally protected forest patches in Androy that is embedded in a landscape managed for agricultural or livestock production and contributes to the generation of ecosystem services and ecosystem resilience at a landscape scale. Forest protection is secured by local taboos that provide a well-functioning and legitimate sanctioning system related to religious beliefs. In Paper V, two spatial modeling tools are used to assess the generation of two services, crop pollination and seed dispersal, by the protected forest patches in southern Androy. The functioning of these services is dependent on the spatial configuration of protected patches in the fragmented landscape and can be highly vulnerable to even small changes in landscape forest cover. In conclusion, many of the identified practices are found to make ecological sense in the context of complex systems and contribute to the resilience of social-ecological systems. The thesis illustrates that the capacity of human-dominated production ecosystems to sustain a flow of desired ecosystem services is strongly associated with local management practices and the governance system that they are embedded in, and that, contrary to what is often assumed, local management can and does add resilience for desired ecosystem services. These findings have substantial policy implications, as insufficient recognition of the dynamics of social-ecological interactions is likely to lead to failure of schemes for human development and biodiversity conservation.