Buying Conservation - Financial Incentives for Tropical Forest Conservation in the Ecuadorian Amazon
Abstract: Market-based instruments have become a widely used approach to motivate landowners to conserve forests instead of clearing them. However, such market-based instruments are increasingly criticized for their simplistic view on complex environmental, social and economic issues; for their ethical stance; and for creating exchange value for essential ecosystems services, which potentially perpetuates a flawed economic system. This dissertation analyses the potential of market-based instruments, in particular the use of financial incentives, to promote forest conservation and deliver social economic benefits. I study the Socio Bosque Program in order to understand to what extent both forest conservation and social objectives can be achieved through the implementation of a market-based instrument. Landowners and communities voluntarily join Socio Bosque and agree to preserve the ecosystem on their land and for that they receive yearly incentive payments for a period of 20 years. I focus on Indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. The incentive payments have diverse social and environmental effects. On a national level, the benefits of participating in Socio Bosque are not equitably distributed among regions and the participating landowners. An analysis of five Indigenous communities shows that although communities may benefit at large, the costs and benefits of conservation are unequally distributed within communities. Participation in decision-making about incentive use and information about the conservation program itself is weak among people who live in the communities studied. This is especially so for women and people who are not full community members. The emergence of conflicts due to the mismanagement of the incentives within communities is another outcome. Furthermore, the focus on forest and tree cover as an indicator for conservation success is insufficient, ignoring the complexity of tropical forest ecology and the importance of locally overhunted seed dispersing animal species. My study shows that money, as an agent of change for forest conservation, has to be seen with caution. The continuous support and meaningful participation of Indigenous communities who are forest owners is a key requirement for a more equitable, effective and inclusive long-term forest conservation. Although financial incentives can address poverty and help to conserve forests in the short run, this approach cannot compete against the underlying causes of deforestation, the increasing demand for raw materials and natural resources that are found in and under tropical forest areas.
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