Work by a team of ROBIN project researchers was highlighted recently in the European Commission's Science for Environment Policy news alert

Posted on March 4, 2016 · Posted in English

Work by a team of ROBIN project researchers was highlighted recently in the European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy news alert. The study, which was led by Nelson Grima of Alpen-Adria University, Austria, aimed to identify the factors that lead to the success of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes. Grima and colleagues analysed 40 different schemes in Latin America to identify factors related to success. They identified four such factors, which could inform policy and aid decision makers in designing PES initiatives with increased chances of success.

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes establish payments or other incentives to farmers or landowners in exchange for managing their land in particular ways, or for providing or maintaining ecosystem services. The principle is that those who benefit from ecosystem services compensate farmers or landowners for their stewardship. For example, a farmer upstream of a town might be paid to improve their waste management practices in order to prevent pollution of the town’s water source. Hundreds of PES schemes have been, or are being, implemented globally, but there has been little evaluation of such schemes in Latin America, a region that pioneered PES. In this study, which was part-funded by the EU ROBIN project, 40 Latin American PES schemes were examined to determine what elements were shared by successful schemes.

The researchers identified four main characteristics of successful PES schemes:

  1. The combination of livelihood improvement with the provision of a critical resource (such as water)
  2. Local and regional schemes operating within a period from 10 to 30 years were more effective than national and shorter term schemes
  3. Payment via non-monetary goods and services, such as building materials or education, were preferable to direct cash payments.
  4. Successful PES schemes generally mostly involved private organisations (including NGOs). Schemes without intermediaries between ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ tended to be more successful — though this was related to the lack of trust for actors estranged from the local context.

While the factors related to the failure of PES schemes were beyond the scope of the research, the authors did highlight several examples: a lack of improvement to local livelihoods, unfair distribution of benefits, and schemes which threatened existing power structures or land rights arrangements.

The researchers hope the analysis will provide insights to inform policy and help decision makers to better design PES initiatives in the future. They also say that synergies between PES schemes and development projects aimed at poverty eradication should be further explored, as well as efforts to understand how PES schemes might contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda.


  • Paper reference: Grima, N., Singh, S., Smetschka, B. & Ringhofer, L. (2016) Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) in Latin America: Analysing the performance of 40 case studies. Ecosystem Services. 17pp. 24–32. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2015.11. 010
  • Science for Environment Policy article (Issue 448, 25 february 2016)