AboutZoos, Since 2008


Pay­ing com­mu­ni­ties to con­serve ben­e­fits the envi­ron­ment and social rela­tion­ships alike

pub­lished 24 June 2018 | mod­i­fied 24 June 2018

Recent research in Mex­ico by econ­o­mists and envi­ron­men­tal­ists is the first to study the social cap­i­tal impacts of a national-​scale, glob­ally rel­e­vant for­est con­ser­va­tion incen­tives programme.

Pay­ing com­mu­ni­ties to con­serve and man­age their jointly owned prop­erty doesn’t just ben­e­fit the envi­ron­ment — it strength­ens social rela­tion­ships and a sense of com­mu­nity within those areas as well, accord­ing to new research led Katharine Sims, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Jen­nifer Alix-​Garcia, pro­fes­sor of applied eco­nom­ics at Ore­gon State Uni­ver­sity and study col­lab­o­ra­tors from the World Bank’s Devel­op­ment Research Group and the Eval­u­a­tion Depart­ment of the Mex­i­can National Forestry Com­mis­sion. The econ­o­mists’ find­ings pro­vide new evi­dence that pay­ments for envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices can pro­vide broader social benefits.

The results are pub­lished online on 14 June in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the National Acad­emy of Sci­ences in a paper, enti­tled “Pay­ments for envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices sup­ported social cap­i­tal while increas­ing land management.”

Pre­vi­ous research by Sims and Alix-​Garcia was among the first to show that pay­ments for envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices could slow defor­esta­tion, espe­cially when con­tracts were tar­geted to com­mu­ni­ties under strong pres­sure to con­vert nat­ural lands into crop­land or pas­ture. This lat­est study found fur­ther evi­dence that incentive-​based con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives, as they are called, result in increased land man­age­ment activ­i­ties, such as patrolling for ille­gal activ­ity, build­ing fire breaks and con­trol­ling pests.

We were really encour­aged to see that Mexico’s PES is sup­port­ing pro-​social behav­iour in addi­tion to directly incen­tiviz­ing con­ser­va­tion. We are very inter­ested to see how PES may impact social cap­i­tal in other set­tings globally.

Jen­nifer M. Alix-​Garcia, lead author, Depart­ment of Applied Eco­nom­ics, Ore­gon State Uni­ver­sity, USA

Most impor­tantly, the find­ings of the study show that such pay­ment pro­grammes also improve par­tic­i­pants’ “social cap­i­tal”: involve­ment in assem­blies, abil­ity to resolve con­flicts, trust between mem­bers and community-​building efforts, among other skills. The research is the first to analyse the “social cap­i­tal” impacts of a national-​scale, glob­ally rel­e­vant programme.

Con­ser­va­tion of nat­ural resources often relies on vol­un­tary con­tri­bu­tions of time and effort, and pay­ments for envi­ron­men­tal ser­vices poli­cies boost these efforts by pro­vid­ing fund­ing for main­te­nance of forests and other nat­ural veg­e­ta­tion,” said Sims, adding that incentive-​based con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes have been adopted in mul­ti­ple coun­tries and play a cen­tral role in global cli­mate agree­ments. “While these finan­cial incen­tives help for­est man­age­ment activ­i­ties com­pete with other land uses, many con­ser­va­tion­ists worry that exter­nal pay­ments will under­mine moral or intrin­sic moti­va­tion to pro­tect nature. Added Alix-​Garcia: “Our work shows that the pro­gramme did not crowd out unpaid con­tri­bu­tions to land man­age­ment or other vol­un­tary com­mu­nity work, which is noteworthy.”

PES sign MexicoA sign tells vis­i­tors in Span­ish that this com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pates in the Pay­ments for Ecosys­tems Ser­vice Pro­gram for bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion. Hunt­ing, cut­ting down veg­e­ta­tion, lit­ter­ing or extract­ing wildlife are pro­hib­ited.
Image by Katharine Sims, Amherst Col­lege.
The team’s work was con­ducted in megadi­verse Mex­ico, the per­fect liv­ing lab­o­ra­tory for the team, as it con­tains more than 10 per­cent of the world’s bio­di­ver­sity and between 50 and 60 per­cent of the world’s known plant species. The study focused on the country’s agrar­ian com­mu­ni­ties, which are for­mally rec­og­nized struc­tures of local gov­er­nance that make joint deci­sions on land man­age­ment through elected coun­cils and an assem­bly of mem­bers. Approx­i­mately half of forested land in Mex­ico is gov­erned under these arrange­ments, mak­ing them key to the future of bio­di­ver­sity and water­shed pro­tec­tion. At least 18 per­cent of global land is con­trolled com­mu­nally.

Mexico’s fed­eral Pay­ments for Envi­ron­men­tal Ser­vices (PES) pro­gramme, run by the Mex­i­can National Forestry Com­mis­sion, funds con­ser­va­tion activ­i­ties by landown­ers. It pro­vides five-​year con­tracts to selected par­tic­i­pants who agree to main­tain exist­ing for­est or other nat­ural veg­e­ta­tion and man­age their land accord­ing to a vol­un­tary plan. Par­tic­i­pants in the PES receive annual pay­ments equiv­a­lent to approx­i­mately $8 to $32 U.S. dol­lars per acre ($12 on aver­age) and are mon­i­tored by field vis­its and satellite.

Pay­ment for Ecosys­tem Ser­vices
Between 1990 and 2010, Mex­ico lost 5.5 mil­lion hectares (or 7.8 per­cent) of its for­est cover (FAO 2010). Defor­esta­tion is largely dri­ven by the con­ver­sion of forests to crop­lands or pas­ture. In response, Mexico’s National Forestry Com­mis­sion (CONAFOR) intro­duced its first pro­gramme of pay­ments for ecosys­tem ser­vices (PES) in 2003. The pro­gramme encour­ages for­est con­ser­va­tion by mak­ing pay­ments to own­ers of eco­log­i­cally valu­able land. The pro­gramme has grown sub­stan­tially since its incep­tion, encom­pass­ing 2.5 mil­lion hectares of forests as of the end of 2013, mak­ing it by far the largest PES pro­gram in Latin Amer­ica. Mex­ico is plan­ning to make PES a cen­tral tool in its strat­egy for imple­ment­ing REDD+ and other car­bon funds,

so a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the impact of the cur­rent pro­gramme on defor­esta­tion is critical.

To eval­u­ate the PES’ social impacts, Sims and Alix-​Garcia used a method called regres­sion dis­con­ti­nu­ity, which took advan­tage of the fact that the pro­gramme had many more appli­cants than the avail­able bud­get to sup­port them, in order to make a com­par­i­son between par­tic­i­pants and sim­i­larly rejected appli­cants. Par­tic­i­pants were selected on the basis of points that rank their risk of defor­esta­tion and eco­log­i­cal and social char­ac­ter­is­tics, with the high­est rank­ing par­tic­i­pants in each state accepted to the pro­gramme. By com­par­ing the out­comes for appli­cants above and below the cut­offs, researchers could iso­late the impact of the pro­gramme from other pos­si­ble con­founders. Sims and Alix-​Garcia designed and super­vised the col­lec­tion of infor­ma­tion from more than 800 lead­ers of agrar­ian com­mu­ni­ties and 8,000 indi­vid­ual house­holds via field-​based surveys.

The team found that pay­ments increased land man­age­ment activ­i­ties by more than 50 per­cent among par­tic­i­pants com­pared to sim­i­lar con­trols. The pro­gramme had a sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant, 8 to 9 per­cent impact on com­mu­nity social capital.

Social cap­i­tal and trust are under­stood to be impor­tant dri­vers of eco­nomic devel­op­ment gen­er­ally and of col­lec­tive action to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment,” said Alix-​Garcia. “We were really encour­aged to see that Mexico’s PES is sup­port­ing pro-​social behav­iour in addi­tion to directly incen­tiviz­ing con­ser­va­tion. We are very inter­ested to see how PES may impact social cap­i­tal in other set­tings globally.”

(Source: Amherst Col­lege news release, 22.06.2018; PRO­FOR, 17.06.2018)

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