Human society depends on healthy ecosystems. Payments for ecosystem services (PES) have emerged as an incentive-based tool to protect and restore ecosystem-service flows, which are being degraded at regional and global scales. Through PES, users of ecosystem services pay landowners who supply these services through land management. This study focuses on PES programs as a possible means to achieve ecosystem-service conservation on private lands, which are playing an increasingly important role in conservation efforts. Specifically, his study examines the potential for PES to address conservation and livelihood issues in the buffer-zone of La Amistad Bi-national World Heritage Site in Western Panama, and provides insights for the equitable architecture of such a program. Although Panama does not currently have a national or regional PES program, there is widely recognized potential for program development.
We conducted a survey of 344 farmers regarding their interest in a hypothetical PES program. While respondents reported a lack of familiarity with the PES concept, after being provided with an explanation, many expressed interest in participating; interest was greatest for the agroforestry and forest conservation scenarios. Using logistic regression analyses we found that farm size, participation in other conservation programs, the number of conservation organizations with which the farmer has worked, and total income were all significant predictive factors of willingness to participate for at least one of three program scenarios with a positive relationship. Land tenure security and age were significant explanatory factors with a negative relationship for one or more scenario. Several of these factors are related to a household's socioeconomic status.
We also investigated equity and fairness concerns including how potential PES program design factors related to minimum enrolled area, land tenure, and land characteristics (e.g., slope) might affect eligibility of low-income households, an increasingly important target of PES programs, particularly in developing countries. Using eligibility requirements based off of Costa Rica's national program, and also generally in-line with programs elsewhere, we found that respondents who ranked lower on our constructed socioeconomic scale were less likely to be eligible to enroll in a Panamanian PES program despite that many are willing to participate.
PES land enrollment requirements, tenure, and land characteristics (e.g. slope) result in participation trade-offs. For example, higher land enrollment requirements result in a rapid decline in potential participants. Our research contributes to a key piece of the PES design puzzle by proactively exploring ways to ensure that landowners across the socioeconomic spectrum (particularly the poor) are able to participate. Understanding trade-offs is important for guiding PES program architecture to achieve rural development and poverty alleviation goals in tandem with conservation outcomes.