Ecosystem Action

Healthy ecosystems are a prerequisite for more resilient food systems and enhanced human well-being.

Tropical agriculture is a major source and user of vital ecosystem services but also exerts more negative pressure on them than any other land use. There is thus an urgent need to improve the management of ecosystem services and generate larger social and economic benefits from them.

What we do: Renewing rural landscapes for improved food security and livelihoods

CIAT is expanding current work on ecosystem services to better realize their huge potential for improving livelihoods. To this end, CIAT is pursuing an integrated approach that involves measuring, mapping, and valuing ecosystem services, while helping create new mechanisms that channel financial resources into the adoption of improved land-use practices.

Ecosystem services are the multiple benefits that all people receive from landscapes – ranging from nutritious food and clean water to climate regulation and outdoor recreation.

CIAT’s current research capacity is oriented to studying a wide range of ecosystem services, including biodiversity maintenance (especially at the soil level); biological control; climate change mitigation (carbon stock assessments; quantification of GHG emissions); pollination; sediment retention; soil fertility (including nutrient cycling and soil formation); and water-related ecosystem services (including water yields, stream flow regulation, and water quality). From these, climate change mitigation and water-related ecosystem services are most indepthly studied ecosystem services at CIAT.

How we do it

Our research focuses on four categories: (1) quantification of ecosystem services, (2) understanding the biophysical processes behind ecosystem services provision, (3) quantification and valuation of off-site impacts of agriculture on ecosystem services, and (4) policy and institutional analysis for ecosystem services provision.

Quantification of ecosystem services

Examples of research questions:

  • How much carbon is stored in soils?
  • To what extent does biological control contribute to pest supression?
  • How much is soil fertility increased in more biodiverse soil environments?
Quantification and valuation of off-site impacts of agriculture on ecosystem services

Examples of research questions:

  • What is the economic importance of impacting the provision of ecosystem services to others?
  • How do ecosystem services provided by natural or managed land affect others in the landscape, watershed, or even globally?
Understanding the processes behind ecosystem service provision

Examples of research questions:

  • What mechanisms explain a reduction in methane emissions?
  • What biological or physical processes are behind nutrient retention in agricultural landscapes?
Policy and institutional analysis for ecosystem service provision

Examples of research questions:

  • What is the enabling institutional and policy context for implementing incentive-based solutions for ecosystem services provision?
  • What is the influence of information on ecosystem services in policy making?

Marcela Quintero, Leader for Ecosystem Services at CIAT talks about the benefits of green infrastructure

Our impact

CIAT’s research has played a major role in developing the Tana-Nairobi Water Fund and is vital for ensuring the Fund delivers the benefits it promises. With support from the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), CIAT used its expertise in detecting and mapping land-use change to inform targeted investments aimed at preventing major ecosystem damage.

In response to the recent appearance of cassava mealybug in Indonesia, scientists from Bogor Agricultural University released about 3,000 wasps into a confined cage during September 2014, with support from CIAT and FAO. This effort helped subdue a major threat to the country’s second most important staple after rice.

As the result of a pilot project carried out in the Cañete River Basin of Peru, the Peruvian congress has approved a new law to promote mechanisms for equitable distribution of economic benefits from vital services provided by the country’s diverse ecosystems. CIAT’s research contribution was to determine the value of ecosystem services, especially water, for a variety of sectors, including agriculture.

Presenting the case of Cañete in Peru:


More than one-third of the Ecosystem Action related projects at CIAT are associated with the CGIAR Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), which focuses on water scarcity, land degradation, and ecosystem service issues.

CIAT’s current research on ecosystem services topics is also articulated to other CGIAR programs such as Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Humidtropics, which focus on climate change and agriculture, and integrated agriculture in humid lowlands, moist savannas, and tropical highlands, respectively.

Research updates

Ecosystem Action | CIAT Blog Science to Cultivate Change


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