New watershed exploration tool for regions of high biodiversity and poverty

Balancing demands for land and responding to future pressures on ecosystems

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Project summary report

Spatial analysis framework report

Spatial visualisation tool 

Status and trends reviews on Commodities and Biodiversity in the:
Watersheds of the Andes
Great Lakes of East and Central Africa
Greater Mekong and its Headwaters

Technical reviews to support ecosystem management of productive landscapes

Capacity Development Assessment Tool

Videos (watch 3,4,5,7, and 10)

Blogs from the scenarios development workshops in the Andes and Mekong regions, and from the scenarios-based policy reviews in the Andes, Great Lakes and Mekong regions.

Photos from the scenarios development workshop in the Andes region, and from the scenarios-based policy reviews in the Andes, Great Lakes and Mekong regions.


Lake Victoria Basin: Policy review workshop report

Lake Victoria Basin: Project summary

Lake Victoria Basin: Inception workshop report

Can we help you?

The Challenge

The human population is expected to reach 9 billion by around 2050. A consequence of this is increasing demand for food, fuel and fibre which leads to increasing competition for land to meet demand. Over the past 40 years, increases in agricultural demand have been met with a 12 per cent increase in global cropland area, improved crop breeding, and agricultural intensification. However, these approaches may not be sustainable and 30 per cent of agricultural lands are already degraded. In the coming decades, society will have to balance competing needs between land use for food, resources and energy with efforts to mitigate climate change and reduce biodiversity loss.

Our solution & impact

The Commodities and Biodiversity project aims to provide decision makers with the information and tools needed to balance demands for land and respond to future pressures on ecosystems. In this way, the adverse impacts of commodity developments on biodiversity and ecosystem services can hopefully be limited. The project focuses on three regions with globally important concentrations of biodiversity resources and with high pressures from commodity development: the Great Lakes of East Central Africa; the Greater Mekong and its Headwaters; and the Watersheds of the Andes. The project also sought to explore pressures and potential impacts of future commodity-driven scenarios of change, taking into account plausible socio-economic trends and climate change, based on regional expert input.

Led by UNEP-WCMC, this project, is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation with additional funding provided by UNEP to support further development of technical reviews and eLearning modules.

The Commodities and Biodiversity project:

  • Collected information on the past trends and current situation regarding the pressures on biodiversity and ecosystem services from commodity developments in each of the three regions.

  • Conducted literature reviews on different elements of spatial mapping and scenario development, along with the development of a Capacity Development Assessment Tool (CDAT) – all available under outputs.

  • Developed regionally specific future scenarios using input from a wide range of stakeholders. Scenarios focused on socio-economic changes such as markets, governance, broad economic developments, and infrastructure. Scenarios for the Mekong and Andes regions were developed at workshops held in those regions and scenarios previously prepared by CCAFS were used for the East Africa region.

  • Developed a spatial framework that allows the evaluation of threats and potential impacts on biodiversity of future land-use changes under different socio-economic scenarios. The framework links scenario-driven landscape change with associated change in biodiversity and ecosystem services importance.

  • Conducted outreach and dissemination through workshops, collaboration and a freely available web-based tool that allowed easy exploration of the results for the analyses within each study region. Policy evaluation workshops reviewed the results and assessed the robustness of national policies in the face of future developments and uncertainty.

The workshops allowed participants from different sectors of government and civil society to think about possible futures together and use the scenarios and modelled impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services to inform national planning for adaptation to climate change or agricultural development. As a result of the scenario building workshop held in Viet Nam in 2013, Cambodia’s Climate Change Priorities Action Plan for Agriculture 2014-2018 features scenario-guided priority-setting in the face of climate change, and a strong focus on climate-smart agriculture.

In Colombia, a workshop participant on the team drafting Colombia’s Implementation Plan for the National Adaptation Strategy for Climate Change will officially present recommendations to include the perspectives of environmental organizations participating in the workshop to the ministerial team drafting the Plan. In the Greater Mekong region, WWF Greater Mekong participated in the scenario-based policy analysis workshop in Phnom Penh leading to the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre and CCAFS workshop team contributing to WWF’’s technical input into the Investing in Natural Capital for a Sustainable Future in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), a meeting document for 4th GMS Environment Ministers’ Meeting.

Finally, this project was designed to contribute to UNEP’s work on supporting “Ecosystems Management through the Landscape Approach” and is embedded as such in its Programme of Work for 2014-2017.


Follow-on work in the Lake Victoria Basin

Building on activities carried out as part of the project on Commodities and Biodiversity in the Great Lakes of Africa region (2013-2015), UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, in collaboration with the Albertine Rift Conservation Society (ARCOS) and the CGIAR research program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), is implementing a two-year project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation entitled Engaging stakeholders in using future scenarios to analyse the potential impacts of agricultural development in the Lake Victoria Basin (LVB).

The Commodities and Biodiversity project revealed broad scale patterns of potential impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services under various scenarios of socio-economic change. In an effort to maximise both the validity and the usefulness of this work for regional stakeholders, the current project builds on these results by interpreting them at the sub-regional scale within the basin, further developing the analysis and assessing how this can support decision-making in relation to the current and likely future impacts of agricultural development on ecosystems, under a changing climate. The project is working with five countries in the LVB: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. More details about this project can be found in the project summary. Outputs can be viewed under 'Latest Outputs'.

Expertise & Team

This work is led by Marieke Sassen who has experience in interdisciplinary research on conservation and development. Arnout van Soesbergen and Andy Arnell developed and implemented the spatial framework for assessing potential impacts of future land-use change on biodiversity. Sarah Darrah, Yara Shennan-Farpón and Sarah Ivory provided support in scenario guided policy reviews and spatial mapping.

Marieke sassen

Marieke Sassen

Senior Programme Officer

Arnout van soesbergen

Arnout van Soesbergen

Programme Officer

Andy arnell crop

Andy Arnell

Programme Officer

Sarah ivory

Sarah Ivory

Programme Officer

Sarah darrah

Sarah Darrah

Programme Officer

Partners & Donors

Commodities and Biodiversity was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre worked with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), Kassel University and other partners, to develop and quantify socio-economic scenarios for each region and model scenario-driven land-use change.