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

04.03.2013
Bhubaneswor

Dear moderators

1.       Contradiction on your arguments

I do not agree on your argument that payment for environmental services (PES) is a prominence tool to provide environmental services in all places or countries. Please have a read my understanding and our findings of a study in the following sections. You have poorly recognized the possibility of tradeoffs of environmental services that can result by PES. If you want to produce a quality research report, you have to read literatures on biophysical phenomena of environmental resources and consult other people with good experience of community in developing countries. I regret to say that some opinions expressed by participants in this discussion have based on narrow assessment or dubious, and some others have no science bases. This is a common problem of people working in forest and other environment resource management field. This is one of the causes of bad outcomes of development support on forest and other environment resource management field.  

2.      Do you know of PES projects that have failed to deliver despite substantial donor support? If so, what were the reasons that caused the failure?

REDD is a failure PES project in Nepal for those who also value the ecosystems services other than the carbon sequestration (climate regulation). Animal and plant species of biodiversity importance exist not only in protected areas but also in community forest. Maintaining suitable habitats of the species requires diversity in the forest.  Growing numbers of studies showed that the industrial and conservative models of forest management practiced by following international advices and supports have suppressed the habitats and threatened the species due to degradation of habitats. The REDD forestry project, (e.g. in the REDD project funded by NORAD and implemented by ICIMOD groups) has advised and provided payment communities to fill remaining open spaces in the forests for increasing forest carbon stock. It has worsened the habitats for the species. The conservative model of forest system also affected agro-biodiversity. Increasing forest cover has reduced dry season stream flow of water which is another concern for communities. Studies showed that reduction of access to forest and availability of non-timber forest products hampered local forestry knowledge.  The reason of failure is bad governances of donor, implementer and host government agencies which introduce the project for their own benefit and little considered potential problems.  It is not due to lack of information because the potential problems are well documented in literature and textbooks.

3.      PES debate in literatures

Some scholars claimed that PES can be an effective mechanism to transfer wealth from rich to poor groups or non-farmers to farmers, and contribute to environment conservation and poverty alleviation or economic development. PES critics argued that the payment concept was introduced by developed countries as a policy instrument to redistribute state income to farmers, particularly to compensate for the loss of subsidies through international agricultural policy changes but the countries justified it as a policy measure for reducing environmental problems caused by industrial farming systems. However, international development agencies experimented the PES for environmental conservation and poverty alleviation in developing countries. According to the PES critics the proponents of PES argued for the sake of their own working benefit and interest. The real benefit from PES will be small or often negligible in developing countries. PES commoditised environmental services available freely to public. Developing countries have many socio-political complexities and bad governance to use opportunities of PES. The government agencies of developing countries hop up on the bandwagon of the international agencies without considering needs and problems in the countries. Then the PES further marginalizes poor people due to bad socio-political institutions and regressive financial systems. The countries have also inadequate resources for social development. Implementation of PES can cause misallocation of available budget of the countries and international sources, and increase administrative burden to the institutionally weak government agencies. It affects investment in important areas such as poverty alleviation and other social development programmes. Experimenting of PES on livelihood means of poor people is also an unethical practice as it can create humanitarian and long lasting problems.  

4.      Our test on the debate

We attempted to rectify the arguments. The study evaluated socioeconomic impacts of payment of six main (specified into 20 for analysis convenient) kinds of ecosystems services provided by mountain agricultural landscapes and their potential impact on the well being of women in Nepal. The study is titled “Socioeconomic impacts of PES of mountain agricultural landscapes on women”. We considered that the women are de facto custodians and manager of the resources providing ecosystem services of mountain agricultural landscapes. This study examined the impacts on the policy system model with 13 criteria. Firstly the study examined whether the resource management warrants conservation payment or other kinds of policy interventions. The study showed that only some services were threatening and warrant for some kinds of policy interventions. It is not in all places and all services as claimed by environmentalist and international organizations. PES could be one of them.  The potential impacts of PES on women vary according the type of the ecosystem service and the activities that need to be performed for conservation. Provisioning only some services contribute food security otherwise they hamper food security. Interestingly, provisioning of some services make positive effect on one socioeconomic criteria (e.g. reduce work burden and ill health) and negative effect on others (e.g. food insecurity). Bad governance is the main problem to take advantages the opportunities of benefiting from the services.  

5.      How bad are bad national and international governances?

I would like to present the bad governance cases of PES in next posting. It may embarrass many readers particularly to those involved in environment conservation, international organizations and PES field.

6.      Remarks

Ways of life of people and environmental systems in many developing countries are sustained in complex relationship of many informal institutions. It requires scholarly inputs with broad visioning, constructive thinking and high precaution to evaluate and work on new development institutions including PES in the developing countries.