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Institutional Complexity And Challenges For The Design Of Payments For Ecosystem Services In Central Africa: Experience From Mbé Watershed In Gabon


The Mbé River watershed is one of the most biologically diverse sites in Central Africa. It is also Gabon’s most economically important watershed, providing electricity for 60% of the country’s population and providing other ecosystem services such as regulating water flows, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. These services are presently provided free of charge. The Mbé watershed ecosystem and its biodiversity face a series of growing threats, most notably unregulated hunting, unregulated mining and unsustainable logging. The long-term solution for the conservation of the Mbé watershed’s biodiversity and ecosystem services is to ensure that sufficient financial resources are available to cover PA (Monte Cristal National Park, for instance) management costs, support sustainable resource use in the watershed area and remunerate the various actors (including local communities) that help in maintaining environmental services and preserving biodiversity. The proposed Project will develop a sustainable funding mechanism in order to secure the long-term protection of the forest ecosystems. Specifically, the Project will remove barriers to such a funding mechanism by strengthening the enabling environment in Gabon for payments for ecological services (PES) and testing a PES scheme(s) for the Mbé forest.

Problem, challenge or context: 
The Mbé watershed faces the following main threats:
  • Forestry: There are 4 logging concessions in the watershed, all of which present a large threat to its integrity. The soils in the watershed are fragile and removal of forest cover, especially on steep slopes and near rivers leads to increased sedimentation and a reduction in water quality. Other negative impacts result from deforestation, road building and industrial and domestic pollution.
  • Mining: the Mountains of Monts de Cristal are rich in minerals and there are potentially large deposits of gold, diamonds, iron and platinum. The entire watershed is covered by two exploratory mining permits (one for iron and one for platinum). Gold mining increases sediment load in rivers which has a negative impact on the hydroelectric dams and on aquatic biodiversity.
  • Hunting: Subsistence and commercial hunting threatens the biodiversity of the Mbé watershed. Hunting is carried out by local villagers as well as workers of the forestry, mining and hydroelectric companies. This area is the primary source of bushmeat for various markets including Libreville.
  • Agriculture: The local populations carry out subsistence farming mainly for manioc, bananas, pineapple, peanuts, yams and sweet potato. In general, this agriculture is currently small scale but there is threat that commercial agriculture will further develop in the region given its proximity to the urban markets. 
Specific elements of components: 

A PES scheme in the Mbe watershed would include the following five components:

  1. The identification of who would receive the payments, ie who are the providers: forest concessions, individuals or associations of rural farmers, Direction Generale de l’Environnement, and Agence National des Parcs Nationaux.
  2. The understanding of what would they be paid: maintaining, improving or adopting conservation-friendly land, water and forest practices that result in the provision of important environmental services (water).
  3. The identification of who would pay (beneficiary): in the context of Gabon such payments could come from the electricity utility company (SEEG) based in the watershed.
  4. Identification of an institutional framework to manage the funds: a governance structure/framework is to be established that would include government agencies in charge of the management of the Mbé watershed plus representatives of local communities and buyers. A clear set of criteria would be defined for the selection of the Board along with its roles and responsibilities and their terms of service.
  5. Identification of payment mechanisms options that fit in the Gabon socioeconomic context. Payments options have to be approved by all stakeholders through a participatory process.
Key lessons learned: 

The solutions is currently under implementation.

Impacts and outcomes: 

The project’s goal is that Biodiversity and environmental services of Mbé watershed protected and livelihood of dependent communities improved through an increased awareness and valorization of the environmental services provided by the watershed. The project objective is to establish a sustainable financing mechanism to ensure long term protection of the forested watershed that has a high conservation value.

The project’s intervention has been organized in two outcomes:
Outcome 1: Legal, policy and institutional framework to support PES scheme for the Mbé watershed is developed and key institutions have capacity and resources to design, manage/implement and monitor PES schemes and be able to learn lessons from the PES scheme design process.
Output 1.1 Proposal for harmonization of national sectoral policies and legislation developed to support the implementation of PES scheme
Output 1.2 Proposal for land use rights are developed to form a sound basis for designing a PES scheme
Output 1.3. Effective coordination and information exchange structures developed that promote cross-sectoral information sharing and synergies among government agencies and key stakeholders with the ultimate view to establishing a PES institution/governance
Output 1.4. Staff of government agencies and other partner / support agencies trained in key aspects of PES including design, - implementation and monitoring
Output 1.5. Lessons learned/gained from the design process are disseminated and transferred to other watersheds in the country and Congo Basin

Outcome 2: A pilot PES scheme that reward the maintenance, improvement or adoption of conservation-friendly land uses is designed and a monitoring plan to evaluate its success established.
Output 2.1 An education and persuasion process put in place to gain the support of important stakeholders, e.g. governments, private business and land owners
Output 2.2 Ecosystem services in the Mbé watershed are defined, measured and assessed, including an assessment of the impacts of different land uses
Output 2.3 Production with participation of all major stakeholders, of detailed PES schemes proposals tailored to the Gabon socioeconomic context
Output 2.4 A business plan developed to improve financial security and options for MBÉ watershed
Output 2.5 Guidelines and criteria for contracts between buyers and sellers developed and contracts negotiated and drafted
Output 2.6 A proposal of a system for distribution of benefits designed and proposed to key stakeholders
Output 2.7 Monitoring systems for biodiversity, water quality using biological indicators established
Output 2.8 Methodologies for monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of PES in Mbé developed

Contact details: 
Gaspard Abitsi, Country Program Director, WCS Gabon
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