Chapman, M., T. Satterfield, H. Wittman and K.M.A. Chan (2020). “A payment by any other name: Is Costa Rica’s PES a payment for services or a support for stewards?” World Development 129: 104900. url
Financial incentives are increasingly popular in development and conservation. A common application involves paying for conservation activities, such as for farmers to set aside land for forests, known as payments for ecosystem services (PES). Debates about incentives such as PES center around the promise and perils of applying market logics to conservation or development goals. A key concern is the potential of financial motivations to crowd out non-financial motivations such as altruism or responsibility. Theoretical debates about the potential impacts of PES programs often assume that PES programs are understood as such by participants—as transactions characterized by a payment for a service—but research has not sufficiently investigated the extent to which these assumptions hold in practice. We studied Costa Rica’s long-standing PES program in the traditional cattle ranching region of Guanacaste via in-depth interviews with program managers, local experts and participants to better understand the range of values and views associated with program payments. We find that whereas program leadership primarily communicated the program as clearly-defined payments for specific services provided, most farmer participants framed financial payments from the program as a form of non-transactional support recognizing their ongoing care for the land and forest. This finding—that market framings did not fully transfer from program leadership through local managers to farmer participants—shows how participants might experience PES programs not as payments for services per se, but as acknowledgement for land stewardship and an additional form of rural development assistance. The support for stewards framing of PES, as suggested by participants themselves, points to a potential leverage point in designing PES programs that enhance (rather than undermine) connections to nature. More broadly, incentive programs of all sorts might consider program framings that reinforce the kinds of values (e.g., social cohesion, health) they seek to improve.