PESos for Conservation: Are Payments for Ecosystem Services the Way Forward?

The world’s biodiversity is going through dramatic changes due to human-induced changes. These changes in biodiversity have the potential to severely impact communities across the globe as the environment provides a number of benefits to people through various ecosystem services. The people that rely on these resources the most are often the poorest, as there is a great deal of overlap between areas of low GDP and biodiversity hotspots. These people are at severe risk given the continuing changes to ecosystems across the globe. While conservation of these ecosystems is important, it is also essential to consider the impact on these highly dependent local peoples. So what can we do to achieve these goals?

What about ecotourism or protected areas?

Ecotourism and protected areas may be effective in conserving biodiversity, but do not protect the livelihoods of local people. Establishing protected areas can shut people out of their homelands and alter their traditional livelihoods. Ecotourism, which is designed to allow local people to benefit from tourism in the area also has some major flaws. Increased tourism can lead to the disruption of wildlife, and the influx of tourists often leads to an influx of big corporations that gain much of the profits. The addition of tourism to an area might also raise the prices locally, making it more expensive for locals to live in the area.  A new method is therefore necessary to address these two issues simultaneously. One potentially game-changing system that Isabel Hoffman highlighted at the midterm conference is Payments for Ecosystem Services, or PES.


A red-eyed tree frog, an important stakeholder of PES in Costa Rica. (Photo by Megan Lorenz, National Geographic Your Shot)

What’s special about PES?

PES offers land owners an economic incentive to manage their land in a way that benefits the environment and the local economy by providing an ecosystem service. An example of PES in action can be found in Nicaragua, where farmers are incentivised to plant trees on their pasture. This is called silvopastoralism.


A silvopasture in Nicaragua (Photo by T. Martin, Envol vert)

These practices in Nicaragua have been shown to provide the desired services while maintaining high levels of biodiversity, and reliable income for local farmers. Costa Rica has also used PES to great success. The scheme has been credited with massive reductions in deforestation. Before the scheme, Costa Rica had one of the world’s highest deforestation rates, but the country now has a net negative deforestation rate. A more general study found that PES has the potential to increase wealth by 49% in highly biodiverse areas!

The future for PES is very promising, with one study suggesting that 173 million low income households could benefit from ecosystem services provided by PES schemes by 2030! What’s not to like? PES may indeed be the way forward for conservation!


By Robert


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