'Economics Of Land Degradation’ (ELD) initiative

'Advancing knowledge on the costs, benefits, trade-offs of sustainable land management in southern Africa’s rangelands'


This research project forms part of a global study on the economic benefits of land and land based ecosystems, and is funded through the ‘Economics Of Land Degradation’ (ELD) initiative. Find out more about the ELD initiative by visiting the website or by following updates on Twitter @ELD_initiative.

As an interdisciplinary collaboration between University of Leeds, UK (Sustainability Research Institute- SRI), Birmingham City University, UK (BCU) and University of Botswana (UB), the research team comprises global experts in land policy, livelihoods and ecosystem services valuation (Lindsay Stringer - PI, SRI) interdisciplinary SLM assessment (Mark Reed, BCU; Andrew Dougill, SRI), range ecology (Jeremy Perkins, UB), community-based approaches (Kutlwano Mulale, UB), geomorphology (Julius Atlhopheng, UB) and environmental economics (Nicola Favretto, SRI). 

Project summary

Rangeland systems support mostly pastoral livelihoods, and are used largely for game, cattle and small-stock grazing and wildlife conservation. Traditional systems are transhumant, allowing herders to respond to the patchy nature of rainfall and forage. Concerns over the dual threats of poverty and land degradation are growing for pastoral communities, particularly in the context of increasing vulnerability to environmental (including climate) change. In some areas, rangeland degradation has led to extensive bush encroachment, reducing access, good quality grazing and economic returns. In other areas, previously stable dune fields are being reactivated. These various forms of degradation highlight the importance of conducting local level assessments in order to further understanding of the situation.

A range of government policies and short-term donor-funded development projects have resulted in a lack of long-term holistic integrated land use planning, and competition between different groups across the Kalahari, has ensued. Furthermore, the relative ease with which livestock assistance can be provided to individuals compared to assistance in the wildlife and tourism sector (which requires greater start-up costs and often a joint venture partner), means the wildlife and tourism sector has been largely ignored. Our local level assessments will be situated within an analysis of the national policy context and the drivers and incentives associated with particular land use and management strategies.

Information regarding alternative land uses and management practices  that can reduce rangeland degradation has often taken second place to dominant political or economic interests, without full assessment of the economic and social impacts of policies for those most dependent upon the rangelands. To target these knowledge gaps, our case study encompasses land uses and management practices that are widespread across the southern Africa region and semi-arid rangeland environments globally, and includes areas that are degraded in different ways and to different extents. Such an understanding of the social and economic dimensions of relevant policies on land, livestock and wildlife for those dependent on rangelands for their livelihoods is needed to help understand how policies can best be used to promote Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices. 

Project goals and activities

The aim of the research is to assess the costs, benefits and trade-offs associated with different land uses and management strategies in rangeland systems. It fills a critical knowledge gap at the interface of economic, social and environmental dimensions and is the first in the region to explicitly use interdisciplinary methods to advance understanding of costs, benefits and trade-offs.

Several objectives contribute towards realising the aim. These are detailed below with an outline of key activities. Specific methods and how they link to objectives can be found under 'Methods' section below.

 1) Assess and outline the socio-economic and ecological characteristics of the study area

 2) Measure the extent of degradation particularly around watering points using a piosphere approach

 3) Identify the main ecosystem services (type, quantity and value) utilised in each land use system, at present and over the past 15 years, the opportunity costs this entails and the costs, benefits and trade-offs associated with different degrees of degradation ensuing from the various management strategies in each system

 4) Assess the trends in market prices (over the past 15 years) for the key provisioning services extracted from the different rangeland uses identified in 3), contextualising these within land use, climate and policy changes over the same period, with a view to identifying the major political and economic drivers of particular land use and management strategies. 

Addressing these objectives requires a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, including:  ecological assessments using biodiversity and soil indicators; ecosystem service valuation (OSLO methodology); climate data analysis; interviews; and oral histories.

Case study area

This case study focuses on southern Africa’s rangeland systems with a focus on the Kgalagadi District of Botswana’s Kalahari. Despite national economic growth attributed to diamond mining, 47% of Botswana’s population live below the $2/day poverty line and >40% of the 1.8 million residents depend on pastoral agriculture as their chief income source. Beef sales represent 5% of national exports and 1.5% of GDP.


Socio-economic Studies

Dougill AJ; Fraser EDG; Reed MS (2010) Anticipating Vulnerability to Climate Change in Dryland Pastoral Systems: Using Dynamic Systems Models for the Kalahari, Ecology and Society, 15.

Mulale K; Chanda R; Perkins JS; Magole L; Sebego, RJ; Atlhopheng JR; Mphinyane W; Reed MS (2014) Formal institutions and their role in promoting sustainable land management in Boteti, Botswana, Land Degradation & Development, 25, pp. 80-91. doi: 10.1002/ldr.2274

Reed MS; Dougill AJ (2010) Linking degradation assessment to sustainable land management: A decision support system for Kalahari pastoralists, Journal of Arid Environments, 74, pp.149-155. doi: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2009.06.016

Reed MS; Dougill AJ; Baker TR (2008) Participatory indicator development: What can ecologists and local communities learn from each other?, Ecological Applications, 18:5, pp.1253-1269.

Sallu SM; Twyman C; Stringer LC (2010) Resilient or vulnerable livelihoods? Assessing livelihood dynamics and trajectories in rural Botswana, Ecology and Society, 15.

Ecosystem Services

Dougill AJ; Stringer LC; Leventon J; Riddell M; Rueff H; Spracklen DV; Butt E (2012) Lessons from community-based payment for ecosystem service schemes: from forests to rangelands, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences, 367, pp.3178-3190. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0418

Perkins J; Atlhopheng J; Chanda R; Mphinyane W; Mulale K; Sebego R; Reed M; Akanyang L; Magole L; Fleskens L; Irvine B; Kirkby M (2013) Making land management more sustainable: Experience implementing a new methodological framework in Botswana, Land Degradation and Development, 24, pp.463-477. doi: 10.1002/ldr.1142

Reed MS; Hubacek K; Prell C; Bonn A; Burt TP; Worrall F; Holden J; Stringer LC; Beharry-Borg N; Chapman PJ; Cornell SJ; Dougill AJ; Irvine BJ; Kirkby MJ; Kunin WE; Quinn CH; Buckmaster S; Chapman D; Clay GD; Evely AC; Fraser EDG; Jin N; Slee B; Stagl S; Termansen M; Thorp S (2013) Anticipating and managing future trade-offs and complementarities between ecosystem services, Ecology and Society, 18. doi: 10.5751/ES-04924-180105

Stringer LC; Dougill AJ; Thomas AD; Spracklen DV; Chesterman S; Ifejika Speranza C; Rueff H; Riddell M; Williams M; Beedy T; Abson DJ; Klintenberg P; Syampungani S; Powell P; Palmer AR; Seely MK; Mkwambisi DD; Falcao M; Sitoe A; Ross S; Kopolo G (2012) Challenges and opportunities in linking carbon sequestration, livelihoods and ecosystem service provision in drylands, Environmental Science and Policy, 19-20, pp.121-135. doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2012.02.004

Terrasón, D., Ravera, F., Reed, M.S., Dougill, A.J., González, L. (2016). Land degradation assessment through an ecosystem services lens: integrating knowledge and methods in pastoral semi-arid systems. J. of Arid Environments, 124: 205-213. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140196315300264 


For more information please contact Professor Lindsay Stringer - Principal Investigator (email: l.stringer@leeds.ac.uk), or for regular updates on Twitter follow @LindsayStringer@AndyDougill, @ELD_Initiative.

Publications and outputs

Journal articles

Dougill, A.J., Akanyang, L., Perkins, J.S., Eckardt, F., Stringer, L.C., Favretto, N., Atlhopheng, J., Mulale, K. (2016). Land Use, Rangeland Degradation and Ecological Changes in the southern Kalahari, Botswana. African Journal of Ecology, 54, 59-67. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/aje.12265/epdf

Reed M.S., Stringer L.C., Dougill A.J., Perkins J.S., Atlhopheng J.R., Mulale K., Favretto N. 2015. Reorienting land degradation towards sustainable land management: Linking sustainable livelihoods with ecosystem services in rangeland systems. Journal of Environmental Management 151: 472-485.

Favretto, N., Stringer, L.C., Dougill, A.J., Dallimer, M., Perkins, J.S., Reed, M.S., Atlhopheng, J.R., Mulale, K. (2016). Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis to identify dryland ecosystem service trade-offs under different rangeland land uses. Ecosystem Services, 17, 142-151. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212041615300693  

Favretto, N., Luedeling, E., Stringer, L.C., Dougill, A.J. (2016). Valuing ecosystem services in semi-arid rangelands through stochastic simulation. Land Degradation and Development. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ldr.2590/full


Report to ELD. Time-series analysis of policies and market prices for provisioning ecosystem services in Botswana's Kalahari rangelands

Project website