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Conservation and Society
An interdisciplinary journal exploring linkages between society, environment and development
Conservation and Society
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ARTICLE
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 29-41

Payments for ecosystem services as neoliberal conservation: (Reinterpreting) evidence from the Maloti-Drakensberg, South Africa


Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, the Netherlands and Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Correspondence Address:
Bram Büscher
Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, the Netherlands and Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.92190

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Payments for ecosystem/environmental services (PES) interventions aim to subject ecosystem conservation to market dynamics and are often posited as win-win solutions to contemporary ecological, developmental and economic quagmires. This paper aims to contribute to the heated debate on PES by giving contrasting evidence from the Maloti-Drakensberg area, a crucial site for water and biodiversity resources in southern Africa. Several PES initiatives and studies, especially those associated with the Maloti-Drakensberg Transfrontier Project (MDTP), claim that an 'ecosystem services' market in the area is feasible and desirable. Based on empirical research in the area between 2003 and 2008, the paper challenges these assertions. It argues that the internationally popular PES trend provided an expedient way for the MDTP implementers to deal with the immense socio-political and institutional pressures they faced. Following and in spite of, tenuous assumptions and one-sided evidence, PES was marketed as a 'success' by the MDTP and associated epistemic communities that are implicated in and dependent on, this 'success'. The paper concludes that PES and the process by which it was marketed are both inherent to 'neoliberal conservation'-the paradoxical idea that capitalist markets are the answer to their own ecological contradictions.


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