Land conservation payments conserve communal social capital in Mexico

Alix Garcia, M. Jennifer et all

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) programs incentivize landowners to protect
or improve natural resources. Many conservationists fear that introducing compensation for
actions previously offered voluntarily will reduce social capital – the institutions, relationships,
attitudes, and values that govern human interactions – yet little rigorous research investigates this concern. We examined the communal social capital impacts of Mexico’s federal conservation
payments program, which has served as a key model for other countries committed to reducing
deforestation, protecting watersheds, and conserving biodiversity. We used a regression discontinuity (RD) methodology to identify causal program effects. This strategy estimates impacts by comparing outcomes for PES beneficiaries and similar rejected applicants close to scoring cutoffs. We found that payments increased land-cover management activities such as patrolling for illegal activity, building fire breaks, pest control, or soil conservation, by
approximately 50%. Importantly, increases in paid activities as a result of PES did not crowd out
unpaid contributions to land management or other pro-social work. Community social capital
increased by approximately 8% and household-level measures of trust were maintained by the
program. These findings demonstrate that major environmental conditional cash transfer programs can support land management and also conserve the attitudes and institutions underpinning pro-social behavior. Rigorous empirical research on this question can proceed only
country by country due to methodological limitations, but will be an important line of inquiry as PES continues to expand worldwide.

Event: Land Governance in an Interconnected World_Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty_2018

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Document type:Land conservation payments conserve communal social capital in Mexico (109 kB - pdf)