Trond Larsen / Conservation International

Liberia - Economics of nature: Mapping Liberia's ecosystems to understand their value

Conservation scientist Trond Larsen and his team trekked through a remote forest in Liberia, recording the plants, animals, and insects that they saw. They noted whether the forest was intact or degraded. Far above their heads, NASA's Earth-observing satellites collected data about the terrain as the satellites continued their well-traveled orbits over Africa.

September 19, 2018

The data collected by the team and the satellites will be used by the Liberian government and the global non-profit Conservation International to factor the country's natural resources and ecosystems into its economic planning. This process is known as ecosystem accounting and helps to meet the standards outlined in the United Nation's System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA).

This project supports the goals of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa that includes 18 African countries, including Liberia, committed to ecosystem accounting for their natural resources and ecosystems. The project is a joint effort between NASA, Conservation International, and the Liberian Government through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pilot an innovative and replicable approach to more accurately map ecosystems to support effective planning and sustainable decision-making. NASA's satellite data and expert analysis will provide a country-wide picture of Liberia's hardwood forests, mangroves, and other ecosystems; Conservation International and the Liberian Government through the EPA will augment that data with their expertise in ecosystem accounting, field studies, and local knowledge to quantify the value of the country's natural resources and related ecosystem services. The project is focusing on Liberia for now, with plans to move on to Botswana and Gabon in the future.

"The problem is that we don't consistently know the value of ecosystems in Sub-Saharan Africa, and countries can't plan for and manage what they can't measure," said Daniel Juhn, Vice President at the Moore Center for Science at Conservation International. Taking stock of the country's natural resources is the first step toward identifying the natural capital—or value—of those resources, he says, which could improve conservation efforts.

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