Day 5 Thursday 27th September – Boards, Secret Clubs and a Single Malt Ecosystem Service

In order to maintain the energy of the group, today involved a diverse range of activities, including meeting with our Malawian Advisory Board. Prior to this, Felix and Miro presented work on Tipping points and how we could incorporate this important topic into the ASSETS project. This very serious topic cannot help but bring humour as the team felt the tipping point of productivity was being reached through our long and daily meetings – time for a different afternoon strategy. In serious terms, the project has a real opportunity to link the social and ecological concepts around tipping points, which should have a significant impact on the whole conceptual basis of this area. Hopefully this can be achieved in a similar way that Kate Rayworth from Oxfam has linked social foundation needs into Rockstrom et al ideas on planetary boundaries.

The meeting with the board, well the two which we were able to attend on this occasion, was very useful and I feel important in ensuring wider impact of our work. The board members were very well placed to help us develop our Theory of Change and should be able to help with the communication and dissemination in Malawi.  It was the first time I had been called a Village Headman, as Sosten introduced me as the project leader to his VC  – the Chief! The CEO of the energy company outlined how the lack of reliable electricity coupled with reluctance to change in behavior, resulted in people continuing to use firewood to cook, even though it’s more expensive and far more damaging to the environment. This practice in turn affects the reliability of electricity from the dams, due to changes in water flow caused by deforestation. Thus, the vicious circle and wicked problem continues… It will be important to see how our research may help, in any way, address this issue, but it highlights the importance of attitude and human behavior. Towards the end of the meeting, he was called to say Zomba and lost half its power and thus the reliability issue came to the fore once again!

During the afternoon, the social scientists worked as a group to generate timelines for their work – the project was finally in full flow, and the natural scientists identified data sources and a road ahead for the modeling work. This included discovering about the secret club who own certain forests where they obtain spiritual and cultural services. Some have tried infiltrating these clubs to find more about them, but getting the data might be tricky – we volunteered Simon to join, but perhaps he would be better employed in Southampton. The key now was to steer these groups forward whilst keeping the cross-talk successfully developed so far in the ASSETS project. After a highly productive few hours, we retreated to the market for some relaxation time.

The market was not as full-on as I was expecting, but that was nice considering this was a relaxation part of the week. The eclectic mix of ware on show was stimulating to all of your senses and I bought some gifts for my family. The evening was completed by a lovely team meal at Dominoes restaurant, which is owned by Clement – head of Forestry. We shared the ecosystem services prize of Single Malt whisky which I won last year from ESPA in producing the best explanation of why ecosystem services are important for a London taxi driver. I cannot recall exactly what I said now but it was something about the food, water, energy and health you currently have are due to ecosystem services – if we continue to use them like we are, we will need to colonize a new planet. Thus, we have the choice of either discovering how to get to another livable planet or be more sustainable and manage our ecosystem services better.