By Joern Fischer
I recently read Payment for ecosystem services, sustained behavioural change, and adaptive management: peasant perspectives in the Colombian Andes, by Tanya Hayes (Environ Conserv. 2012 Jun; 39(02): 144-153; DOI: 10.1017/S0376892912000045). I liked the paper, and so wanted to share my thoughts on it.
The paper presents an interesting case study of a payments for ecosystem services scheme (PES) that has been running for several years in the Colombian Andes. Small-scale farmers are getting paid to implement silvopastoral measures on their farms. These measures are supposed to increase milk production; and increased milk production, in turn, is assumed to alleviate pressure on native forests (which may otherwise be cleared by locals in an effort to expand their agricultural land in order to increase milk yields).
The findings are interesting. Most notably, only 13% of farmers were even aware that they were contractually obliged to protect forests, and few saw themselves able to continue the recommended silvopastoral practices after the initial payment period concludes.
While this is, at face value, “only” a case study, it highlights important issues that leading international literature is frequently glossing over at the moment. Case studies like this are vital because they highlight the risk of gaps between top-tier science and on-ground realities. Two important take-home messages are: (1) without appropriate strategies for local implementation, PES as a conservation tool suffers from the same problems as conventional non-participatory conservation policies; and (2) increasing yields in one part of a farm does not automatically ‘spare land’ for nature. These findings, to my mind, suggest that future research efforts must do more to address such local-scale challenges – in addition to elegant conceptual models of how to harmonise food production and biodiversity (e.g. [1, 2]), some of the biggest challenges may only be resolvable at local scales, with insights produced by local-scale case studies such as this one.
1. Foley, J.A., et al., Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature, 2011. 478(7369): p. 337-342.
2. Phalan, B., et al., Reconciling Food Production and Biodiversity Conservation: Land Sharing and Land Sparing Compared. Science, 2011. 333(6047): p. 1289-1291.