Ecosystem services in practice

By Joern Fischer

I recently read Payment for ecosystem services, sustained behavioural change, and adaptive management: peasant perspectives in the Colombian Andesby 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.


One thought on “Ecosystem services in practice

  1. Another “interesting case study of a payments for ecosystem services”…

    Developing a Sustainable Oregon Coast

    The southern coast of Oregon is a rare place on earth, where beautiful wild & scenic rivers tumble down through steep canyons, and the tallest and largest carbon-sequestering forests in the world on their way to a rocky coastline with wide stretches of sandy beach, before pouring out into the mighty Pacific ocean. Along the rugged coast are picturesque working ports, made of hillside homes, small waterfront cafe’s, vibrant art communities, and more parks per mile than anywhere in the USA.

    Financing for ecosystem services is beginning to emerge from some compassionate climate capitalists who have been seeking out carbon offset projects that not only reduce carbon emissions but also have significant social, economic and/or environmental benefits in the communities where the projects are developed. These projects are often referred to as having co-benefits or some call them charismatic projects. Charismatic carbon projects are poised to experience significant growth because there is increasing demand from offset buyers because investors that buy charismatic offsets gain more brand value for buying them than if they had just bought garden variety offsets.

    Sustainable Land Development Initiative

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