Landscape valuation: Why pricing shared land is necessary

True Price conducted an innovative natural capital valuation analysis on the different land uses in the Maasai steppe, Tanzania. The region is home to pastoralist herders and is famous for its ecosystems that attract tourists worldwide but it is undergoing a drastic change.

There is an increasing trend of agricultural land conversion that is leading to a loss of habitat for iconic animals and loss of grazing areas for pastoralist herders. A natural capital monetary valuation study shows that conversion of steppe into farmland will result in overall natural capital loss. If the agricultural land conversion is not slowed in the coming decades, it will result in a loss of 1.3 billion USD in terms of lost ecosystem benefits to the Tanzanian people. Ecosystem services affected include: milk, meat, tourism, raw materials, wild food and medicinal herbs, drinking water and tree products.

In the short term, agricultural land conversion increases food production and productivity. However, True Price’s research shows that in the long term this practice leads to a decline in agricultural productivity since the common form of agriculture in the region is not sustainable and land is degraded and abandoned.

The following figure demonstrates the internal natural capital value of the Maasai Steppe, representing the discounted value of present and future benefits of alternative scenarios in USD.

internal natural capital value

Figure 1: Value of natural capital in the Maasai steppe in 3 scenarios of land conversion from glassland to farmland.

Economic benefits can be protected by slowing down the pace of land conversion from grasslands to farmland. Our livestock study with UNEP TEEB identifies options to facilitate a transtion towards more sustainable agricultural practices. A suggested mechanism to encourage this is to financially incentivise pastoralists to protect their land, to be paid for by other ecosystem beneficiaries, in the case of the steppe this is tourism operations. This economic mechanism would facilitate the internatlization of positive externalities, and gives hope to the future shared natural capital value of the Maasai steppe.

Find the full report for UNEP TEEB on their TEEBAgriFood page, created by True Price, Trucost and Wageningen University