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Re: Payments for environmental services (PES) in theory and practice: Lessons learned and way forward

George Kent Department of Political Science, University of Hawai'i, United States of ...

Greetings –

The project on “Remuneration of Positive Externalities (RPE): Payments for Environmental Services (PES) in the Agricultural and Food Sectors” is very worthwhile because it leads to more complete accounting for resources and other concerns that had not been valued adequately.

As the title indicates, the focus is on environmental services. This should lead us to ask, what other externalities are there? Are there other important issues that should not be ignored?

For example, are there cultural resources in the communities of food producers and food consumers that ought to be recognized?

Educational services to farmers, both formal and informal, surely are important.

Should the ability to pass debt to future generations be recognized as an externality?

Should the services of regulatory agencies be recognized as external factors that really ought to be paid for? Aren’t they required in any comprehensive view of food systems?

If attention is given to the ways in which industrial modes of food production can lead to environmental depletion and pollution, shouldn’t attention also be given to the ways in which those modes of production tend to concentrate wealth?

Shouldn’t attention be given to the fact that modern agriculture preferentially serves high income consumers?

Oliver De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, argues that food systems ought to have three major objectives:

·      First, food systems must ensure the availability of food for everyone, that is, supply must match world needs.

·      Second, agriculture must develop in ways that increase the incomes of smallholders.

·      Third, agriculture must not compromise its ability to satisfy future needs (De Schutter 2010).

Environmental services, one part of the third category, certainly are important, but they should be viewed in a broader context in which many different kinds of values are taken into account.

We have choices regarding how the products of agriculture ought to be valued. For a moment, imagine that agricultural produce was paid for on the basis of its nutritional value, its value in correcting inequities, and its value in protecting the physical environment. What would our food systems look like then? If these were the things we cared about deeply, the world would be a very different place.

Some methods used to take account of concerns about the physical environment might be adapted to take account of other types of issues that have been neglected. The first task would be to identify them. Then there is the need to weigh their importance.

We should also recognize the reality that different people would weigh the issues differently (Kent 1993). Often the environment is harmed because no one speaks for the environment. Similarly, hunger in the world persists partly because the hungry have little voice in deciding what should be regarded as important in modern agriculture.

Aloha, George Kent