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Ecosystems

Conservation payments reduce deforestation on land next door

18 Jun 2019
Renzo Guidice with participating community members

Paying indigenous groups to conserve their land could reduce deforestation. But a pilot conservation payment scheme in Peru has had minimal impact, according to a research team from Peru, Germany and Spain. Changing the way that indigenous communities enrol could increase conservation gains significantly, the researchers believe.

Over half Peru’s greenhouse-gas emissions come from destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Around 16% of this deforestation occurs on land belonging to indigenous communities. These communities are some of the poorest population groups in Peru. The forest is an important source of their livelihood, through activities such as traditional “slash and burn” agriculture, logging, renting land to third parties for cash crops such as palm oil and coca, and gold mining.

Back in 2010 the Peruvian Ministry of Environment created a National Forest Conservation Program. Through 2011, 50 indigenous communities enrolled onto the scheme. In return for their ecosystem payments, the communities were expected to implement sustainable forestry projects such as small-scale coffee plantations and sustainable timber harvesting.

Renzo Giudice from the University of Bonn, Germany, and his colleagues used remotely sensed deforestation data gathered between 2001 and 2015 to assess the impact of this pilot conservation programme.

The scheme had low impact, with only minimal levels of avoided deforestation, the results show. The greatest amount of avoided deforestation occurred on lands surrounding the conservation area.

“This ‘spillover’ effect is counterintuitive, but could be related to the implementation of the sustainable forestry projects, leaving people with less time to deforest the surrounding areas,” says Giudice.

But why was the avoided deforestation so low on the lands that were enrolled in the scheme? Giudice and his colleagues believe this is because communities chose which parts of their land to enrol in the scheme, and tended to select areas that were not at high risk of deforestation in the first place.

“We believe that the scheme would have far more impact if communities had to enrol their entire territory, to avoid this self-selection bias,” says Giudice, who published the findings in Environmental Research Letters (ERL). What’s more, the researchers suggest prioritizing enrolment of communities with lands most threatened by deforestation.

Deforestation and forest degradation are the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, so ecosystem payment schemes could play a key role in climate change mitigation. The latest findings suggest that ecosystem payments do have potential, but only if the enrolment conditions are tightened.

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