The Mbé is Gabon’s most economically important watershed, providing electricity for around 60% of the country’s population inhabiting the capital city, Libreville. The watershed is also one of the most biologically diverse sites in Central Africa providing other ecosystem services such as regulating water flows, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity.

Despite the contribution of ecosystem services of the Mbé watershed to rural livelihoods and the national economy, the resulting benefits are not accounted for; or at best their value is underestimated. Setting aside protected areas is still seen as being un-economical or as an opportunity cost by the general public and decision makers, rather than an investment in natural capital. The Gabonese authorities recognize the benefits to the country of grants provided by international agencies and private sector partners for addressing threats to biodiversity. However, the concern is that such grants represent short-term funding, which leaves long-term needs unaddressed when the projects end.

It is thus essential for Gabon to identify sustainable financing mechanisms for the long-term conservation of its protected areas and PES may bring new resources and new incentives for conservation. The development of economic instruments such as PES that take into account the non-market value of ecosystem services is considered one promising response to the challenges of linking conservation and development in Gabon.

Scientific modelling will be used as a tool to: (i) Identify target areas where improved land management activities are most cost-effective in reducing erosion, (ii) Assess the biophysical impacts of these activities relative to a business-as-usual scenario, (iii) Quantify the financial return-on-investment with specific focus on hydropower.