Technology’s Role in Proving Indirect Ecosystem Services and Monitoring their use, the example of a wireless network of meteorlogical stations and agroforestry trees in a West African Parkland
The Gourmantche people of South Eastern Burkina recognize Sclerocarya birrea as a locally important agroforestry tree because of its cultural, agricultural, and nutritional value. Although it is understood to provide hydrologic benefits to surrounding crops by local farmers, the larger scientific community had not yet documented its benefits. Using an easily deployable network of wireless meteorological stations, we observe the effect of these agroforestry trees on the local water balance. Sclerocarya birrea trees are found to promote deep infiltration of the surface precipitation into the deep ground water, promoting recharge. On a patch scale, the highly vegetated surface is shown to conserve soil moisture after the rainy season and thus allows for longer crop cycles. In addition to the hydrologic services, the increased quantity of vegetation allows for marketable ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration or food production diversity. The scientific study was bracketed by a participatory mapping workshop that launched the project and guided research directions and a set of interviews that assessed the importance of Sclerocarya birrea to the local community, local perception of climate change, local history and reasoning of land use, traditional knowledge of farming and rain practices, local technological needs, and local perception on current development, specifically over the time period of the project. The goal of these interviews was to understand the local community’s perspective on the scientific questions, basis, and propositions of our research project. By framing the project within two different organized dialogues with the village, we are able to make conclusions of the social importance and potential impact of this research. In this paper, we compare the results of the scientific measurement effort with the local perception of this tree, and propose how innovative technology can be used for on going monitoring of the ecosystem services. Such a monitoring effort could be beneficial to set up additional incentive schemes to encourage farmers to maintain agroforestry trees, thus promoting a more diverse subsistence base, increasing carbon storage, and creating a more resilient social-agricultural system.