Highlighting stories of social (in)equity in nature-based solutions

08 Dec 2023
TES stories front cover
08 Dec 2023

Written by: Michelle Shields, Tali Hoffman and Petra Holden

The TES NbS project recently released a compilation of stories from across Africa that highlight factors that constrain or enable social equity in nature-based solutions. Based on the experiences and insights of 17 researchers and practitioners, these illustrated narratives aim to amplify the voices of local communities.

Social (in)equities in nature-based solutions

As described in the foreword of the storybook, "nature-based solutions involve working with nature to address societal challenges while promoting human wellbeing and biodiversity. They can be classified as protection, sustainable management, restoration and creation, and carried out in a variety of settings from natural or semi-natural ecosystems, to farming and cultural landscapes, to highly transformed environments like built or semi-built areas. They target a variety of societal challenges – often simultaneously – including climate change adaptation and mitigation, social and economic development, water and food security, disaster risk reduction and environmental degradation."

So, what is the problem? 

The storybook goes on to elaborate the problem in the following way, "as nature-based solutions become increasingly popular in policy and practice, different groups – particularly in the Global South – are raising concerns about their misuse or misguided application. Worse still is that, despite any equitable intentions, many nature-based solutions still lead to inequitable outcomes, particularly at local scales, and particularly for the most vulnerable. These outcomes include negative impacts, fewer benefits, and less or limited participation, recognition, and respect."

Stories of social (in)equity in nature-based solutions

The new storybook is a collaborative effort between researchers and practitioners. The diverse team worked together to tell and write stories grounded in their research and work experiences with nature-based solutions in southern Africa. The series of eight stories showcases a range of experiences and perspectives highlighting the diversity of social equity challenges and opportunities that people face with nature-based solutions.

The collection of stories covers misguided tree planting in Madagascar; gender norms and conservancies in Namibia; equity washing, corporates and forest concessions in Gabon; tree clearing and job (un)sustainability in South Africa; misaligned expectations and realities in sustainable grazing in Botswana; informal, community-driven innovation in Namibia; building capabilities for participation in land management in South Africa; and locally-led teaching in complex decision making in Zimbabwe.

Each story has an accompanying illustration which includes a summary of the story context and a key reflection. The key reflections are written as clear ways forward and are based on a forthcoming systematic review that the TES NbS project has been busy completing.  

The power of stories

Although these messages could have been communicated in a variety of ways, the TES NbS team chose to use storytelling to do so. 

“Stories engage us, entertain us, and help us develop more diverse and nuanced perspectives of the world,” said Dr Tali Hoffman, TES NbS science communicator. 

“We wanted to use stories to help our readers to more deeply understand the different ways that people – especially those most vulnerable – can be impacted by nature-based solutions,” said Dr Petra Holden, TES NbS Principle Investigator.

“The hope is that these stories will help those working in research, policy and practice better consider how social equity can be achieved during the design, planning and implementation of nature-based solutions,” said the storybook editors, Dr Petra Holden and Dr Tali Hoffman.


Click here to read the stories

If you have a comment about one of the stories, have any questions or concerns, or have a story of your own that you'd like to share, please let us know via this form.



Holden, P*., Hoffman, T.*, Djenontin, I.N.S., Esler, K., Gannon, K., Humphrey, G., Mbidzo, M., Mtati, N., New, M., Ndlovu, V., Razafimanantsoa, A.H.I., Rebelo, A.J., Savory, S., Shackleton, S., Thorn, J.P.R., Visser, M. & Ziervogel, G. 2023. Stories of social (in)equity in nature-based solutions.