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Effectiveness of payment for ecosystem services after loss and uncertainty of compensation

Abstract

Payment for ecosystem services (PES) programmes seek to promote conservation via payments for desired resource-use behaviours. While PES has been found to produce some ecological and livelihood benefits, an understudied concern is what happens when payments stop. We assess how households’ land-use behaviours changed in response to a temporary gap in payments and subsequent payment uncertainty in a programme in Ecuador, which paid communities to reduce their grazing on their communal lands. In 2015, after six years in operation, the programme lost funds and stopped payments. These resumed in 2017, but participants were only partially repaid retroactively, and future payments remained uncertain due to funding instability. Using a difference-in-difference modelling approach, we compare household grazing behaviour between communities in the programme and a set of control communities over ten years before PES payments, during PES payments and after the gap in payments in a period where participants were still owed at least one past payment and future payments were uncertain (n = 871 households). We find that grazing was significantly reduced by almost 20% over the ten-year period and that households continued to refrain from grazing even after experiencing payment loss. Our results demonstrate the importance of aligning programme objectives with community conservation and livelihood goals. Our discussion suggests how these conditions may interact with PES to prompt sustained behavioural change.

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Fig. 1: Household grazing in PES participant and control communities over time.

Data availability

Survey data are available at https://scholarworks.seattleu.edu/env-std-data/1/. Field páramo assessment data are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request as these field data are sensitive for the respective communities.

Code availability

Stata code for regression analysis is available at https://scholarworks.seattleu.edu/env-std-data/1/.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation: grants SES #1156271 (T.H., F.M. and H.W.) and SES #1734051 (T.H. and F.M.). We thank the Ecuadorian Environmental Ministry (MAE), which was crucial in facilitating fieldwork. We give special recognition to M. Bustamante, M. Peralvo, C. Felix, M. Garcia and L. Trujillo for their assistance in data gathering and analysis. Finally, we thank the residents of the study communities who welcomed us into their homes and facilitated our visits to their páramo.

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Authors

Contributions

T.H. and F.M. conceived the project and developed the analysis approach. T.H., H.W and F.M. analysed the survey and field assessment data. M.F.L.-S. and J.S. gathered and analysed the aerial and satellite images. J.S. conducted the páramo field assessment. T.H., F.M. and H.W. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Tanya Hayes.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Krister Andersson, Julian Rode and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Methods, Figs. 1–4, Tables 1–8, Note, Discussion and references.

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Hayes, T., Murtinho, F., Wolff, H. et al. Effectiveness of payment for ecosystem services after loss and uncertainty of compensation. Nat Sustain 5, 81–88 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00804-5

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