Monitoring the social and economic performance of natural resource management systems must be conducted within a participatory, learning framework, designed as far as possible with the people whose livelihoods are being impacted.

Socio-economic aspects of sustainable use indicators also have a wider remit, however. This is because the frameworks within which human beings practice sustainable (or unsustainable) use are not just natural resource frameworks. There are also the frameworks set by national level laws, policies and institutions; frameworks which derive from district or provincial-level political institutions; and frameworks which are set by ecosystem-level or sub ecosystem-level local management regimes. There are also the constraints and opportunities provided by markets and market forces which monitoring systems need to understand thoroughly (and these considerations go well beyond the identification and elimination of market distortions). The Addis Ababa Principles recognise all of these.

Thus both the development of baselines against which to monitor, and the subsequent monitoring itself, are multi-level processes. And though each situation is unique, monitoring activities are always needed at all the key levels identified.

Indeed, since biodiversity monitoring takes place at the ecosystem level only, socio-economic monitoring not only at this level, but also of all the other dimensions which impact on the ecosystem, makes a fundamental contribution to an understanding of the whole picture.

Establishing the baseline: Pro-sustainable use legal frameworks

AAPG 1: Supportive policies, laws, and institutions are in place at all levels of governance and there are effective linkages between these levels.

Baseline action will consist of establishing the nature of policies, laws and institutions which impact upon the ecosystem, and becoming aware of the conflicts likely to exist between some of them. For instance:

  • The difference between the laws and policies which apply to protected area and to non-protected area parts of the ecosystem.
  • The clash between national-level law and local customary rules.
  • The tension between forest land and agricultural land rulings which commonly affect sustainable use areas such as forest fringes.

Examining this current baseline framework:

  • Which aspects support sustainable use and which are a threat to it?
  • Are there areas where positive change must be worked towards?
  • Which aspects, generating potential positive or negative trends, need be monitored?

Establishing the baseline: Setting up management practices and institutions Principle 5 [See footnote - 1]; Principle 7 [See footnote - 2]; Principle 9; Principle 12

At the time when ecosystem management goals and practices for sustainable use are established, best current understanding of ecosystem services, structure and function should be recorded in the baseline. The development of the management regime (or recording of the existing one) with local stakeholders is an excellent context in which to establish this preliminary baseline for the understanding of ecosystem services and function.

It is at this stage that the institutions responsible for management need elucidation. Existing institutions may already be doing some of the work. (For instance, local government may be taking certain actions, and local people may be managing aspects of resources as part of their livelihoods.) Developing a familiarity with all the existing forms of management is an essential part of the establishment of an information baseline, and an understanding of the starting points for ecosystem scale and management scope (Principle 7 and Principle 9) will develop from this enquiry.

An ecosystem forum, established to include the main management stakeholders, once they have all been identified, will then be essential. Over time as several smaller local institutions become more aware of one another's capacities, and more alert to challenges lying ahead, they may be able to form other complementary institutions which feed into the main forum - coalitions or federations to deal with inter-group planning and implementation, for instance. This process will go faster if support is available from outside.

If management arrangements and lines of responsibility are established fairly as aspects of joint enquiry into ecosystem services and function, then equitable benefit-sharing will have been established from the start, hopefully in a way embedded in management.

Consolidating the baseline: Clear rights plus a good management regime establishes the right sustainable use opportunities Principle 2

When the legal and policy framework is clearly understood (section 2 above), and when the management regime has been established (section 3 above) many aspects of the likelihood of successful sustainable use will be better understood. There will have been agreement about legal limits ('legal' agreed on the basis of some combination of national and local rules) and the mechanisms for monitoring and managing will be in place. Both will be informed by baseline local understandings of ecosystem services and function.

Monitoring change against the baseline: Markets and other economic issues; Principle 3 [se footnote - 3]; Principle 10


One of the strongest challenges to sustainable use, assuming that rights and duties are already established and agreed, is that presented by markets.

So long as market demand for particular products is only moderate, such demand may be a stimulant to better management. But very strong demand can present such challenges to local management systems that they are overwhelmed.

Markets may be distorted by inappropriate policies, laws and regulations which drive unsustainable use. (Monitoring of such policies, laws and regulations will in time show if this is true or not).

But they may equally well be driven perfectly logically by high demand for certain biodiversity products which generate important cash incomes. Nearby markets may exert heavy demand for products needed in bulk, such as fuelwood. Far away markets (which may even be international) may encourage unsustainable gathering of a very high value product such as Prunus africana treebark (used in making a drug against prostate cancer) or gaharu (eaglewood, used for making perfume). It may be next to impossible to deflect or substitute for such demand, whatever the management arrangements.

It may be impossible to do more than monitor local and non-local market prices, and to try to help local people to diversify the products they take to market. Distant and, in particular, international markets, can change their priorities with amazing rapidity, and are almost impossible to influence.

Management costs and benefits Principle 13 [see footnote - 4]

Monitoring the retention of management costs and management benefits within the ecosystem is an important aspect of the monitoring of management effectiveness and activity.

Monitoring change against the baseline: Information sources, tools, and feedback into management Principle 4 [see footnote - 5]; Principle 6; Principle 14

Monitoring is often located much too far outside the process it is supposed to be informing and assisting. In the case of socio-economic monitoring (but actually this is true of all monitoring) the process by which information is gathered is at least as important as the facts generated.

The baseline against which monitoring will take place must have been developed by the same institutions, and the same managers, as those who will subsequently monitor against it. Decisions about the monitoring information which will be required must have been taken at an early stage too, by a combination of local people and outsiders who have agreed what is needed, what it is realistic to expect to monitor, and what the monitoring intervals will be.

The way to create short feedback loops, so that the results of monitoring feed quickly back into adaptive management decisions, is to ensure that all ecosystem managers meet regularly anyway, at the established ecosystem forum which all regard as legitimate. Monitoring results can then be fed in a timely way into such meetings. It must be clear who will do what monitoring; how it will be recorded; where records will be kept; and by what mechanisms the results of monitoring will go back to the diverse range of biodiversity managers, be taken seriously by them and be applied by them.

Principle 6

Research is desirable, but it is secondary to the establishment (or the understanding and recording) of responsible management practice, and the development of monitoring against a baseline. Such research as does take place should involve local as well as professional academic researchers, and be agreed with them as a valuable use of their time.

Principle 14

If stakeholders and managers are working together properly, sharing knowledge and trying to solve problems jointly, the rather sterile activities suggested in AAPG 14 will be superfluous.


Sustainable use is by definition a people-oriented concept. There is no excuse for making baseline development and monitoring so complex, or so abstract, that it does not speak to the people who are the users of the resource, and is of no use to them.

Given finite funds and the very finite time of local people, the challenge to researchers is to keep monitoring simple and telling, and to embed it in the lives and activities of people living in the ecosystem. This presentation makes some preliminary suggestions as to how to frame such actions, in the context of the Addis Ababa Principles [6].


1. This principle is linked to CBD Ecosystem Approach Principles 3, 5 and 6.
EsA 3. Ecosystem managers should consider the effects (actual or potential) of their activities on adjacent and other ecosystems.
EsA 5. Conservation of ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services, should be a priority target of the ecosystem approach.
EsA 6. Ecosystems must be managed within the limits of their functioning.

2. This principle is linked to CBD Ecosystem Approach Principles 2 and 7.
EsA 2. Management should be decentralized to the lowest appropriate level.
EsA 7. The ecosystem approach should be undertaken at the appropriate spatial and temporal scales.

3. This principle is linked to CBD Ecosystem Approach Principle 4.
Recognizing potential gains from management, there is usually a need to understand and manage the ecosystem in an economic context. Any such ecosystem-management programme should:
(i) Reduce those market distortions that adversely affect biological diversity;
(ii) Align incentives to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use;
(iii) Internalize costs and benefits in the given ecosystem to the extent feasible.

4. This principle is also linked to CBD Ecosystem Approach Principle 4.

5. This principle is linked to CBD Ecosystem Approach Principles 9 and 11.
EsA 9. Management must recognize that change is inevitable.
EsA 11. The ecosystem approach should consider all forms of relevant information, including scientific and indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices.

6. The presentation does not explicitly treat AAPG principles 8 or 11. AAPG 8 is marginal to monitoring, and AAPG 11, is indirectly dealt with in the text.
AAPG 8: There should be arrangements for international cooperation where multinational decision-making and coordination are needed.
AAPG 11: Users of biodiversity components should seek to minimize waste and adverse environmental impact and optimize benefits from uses.

Dr. Gill Shepherd is Senior Research Associate for the Forest Policy and Environment Programme at the Overseas Development Institute, UK, and the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management theme leader on the Ecosystem Approach. Email:

Jeff Sayer is Senior Associate at the Forests for Life Programme, WWF-International and a member of the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and the SUSG Global Concepts Group. Email: