Co-investment and sociopolitical alternatives for ecosystem services

Researchers meeting at the 7th Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference made observations and recommendations for better management of ecosystems


By Robert Finlayson


Every year, members of the Ecosystem Services Partnership hold a conference to discuss progress. This year’s—the seventh—was held for the first time in Latin America, in San José, Costa Rica, 8–12 September 2014.

Beria Leimona, Grace Villamor and Sacha Amaruzaman of the World Agroforestry Centre together with colleagues Jean-Francois Le Coq from Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement and Bernardo Aguilar from Neotropica, presented a workshop at the conference—Looking beyond payment for ecosystem services: co-investment and institutional alternatives for ecosystem services’ provision at the landscape level—that came up with a host of recommendations for better management of ecosystems and their services.

Researchers in Costa Rica examine a map of ecosystem services

Researchers in Costa Rica examine a map of ecosystem services. Photo: World Agroforestry Centre/Beria Leimona

First, under institutional frameworks, the researchers noted the need to integrate approaches to ecosystems with socio-political approaches. This would encourage greater clarity about the roles and diversity of institutions involved in a landscape and would help promote payments for ecosystem services’ and other financing schemes for the environment. Linked with this was the need to properly exploit the potential for involvement of the private sector in payments’ schemes, which would require a corresponding effort to address the flow of information, such as information on property rights and ‘free riding’ potential, to create demand, offer bundled services for more synergies and increase effectiveness of schemes.

Developing this network of ecosystems and institutions might be assisted through the concepts of ‘new institutionalism’ and ‘historical institutionalism’, which might also help with identifying the three steps involved in developing biodiversity-banking schemes. Qualitative comparative analyses could be used to analyze the performance of schemes, as has been applied in agri-environmental measures in Germany.

Second, under the socio-economics of payments for ecosystem services’ schemes, the workshop participants observed that prioritization for implementation, using social and environmental criteria was able to be done by experts to provide the basic information for selecting participants. Further, employing the concept of ‘transaction costs’ could bring a useful economic perspective that could help explain the diversity of economic instruments.

Third, under conservation benefits and funding of ecosystem services’ schemes, the researchers noted Global Conservation Standards was an international financing mechanism that could complement existing national financing mechanisms, such as in the case of Costa Rica.They also cautioned that sometimes, consumers, when they buy eco-certified commodities, are more concerned about health than environmental issues, which could have a negative effect on an eco-certification scheme’s business model.

The fourth group of recommendations dealt with community-based and participatory approaches to payments for ecosystem services’ schemes. Local development was considered to be determined not only by the availability of natural resources but also by a good articulation amongst human, social, political and cultural capital. Providing collective access rights for community-based management was seen to be more efficient for conserving public goods than privatization or other mechanisms, particularly when involving public land. Socio-ecosystem modeling could be an alternative method for identifying gaps in coordination among people trying to provide ecosystem services while the ‘livelihoods capital’ approach enabled identification of the condition of schemes.

Finally, the researchers observed that regulating ecosystem services should be valued by measuring the investment cost in producing such services—for example, in coastal ecosystems and fisheries—and, at least theoretically, payments should be based on benefits rather than costs.

The abstracts of the workshop are already available and the results and other outcomes from the conference will soon be published in more detail.



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This work is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry’s component on Landscape Management of Forested Areas for Environmental Services, Biodiversity Conservation and Livelihoods





Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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