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ARTICLE
Year : 2015  |  Volume : 13  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 345-355

Can Payments for Environmental Services Strengthen Social Capital, Encourage Distributional Equity, and Reduce Poverty?


1 Current affiliation: Environmental Sustainability, City of Hollywood, FL; Research undertaken at: Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA
2 Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA

Correspondence Address:
David Barton Bray
Florida International University, Miami, FL
USA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.179880

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Date of Web Publication8-Apr-2016
 

   Abstract 

This study examines the relationship between the Mexican payment for environmental services (PES) programme, social capital and collective action, equity in distribution of benefits, and poverty alleviation in a case study in the Sierra Norte region of the state of Oaxaca. We address these issues with a household survey in two communities; and survey and ethnographic data on the six-community organisation - the Natural Resource Committee of the Upper Chinantla (CORENCHI). We suggest that the Mexican common property agrarian system greatly facilitates payments to entire communities of rights holders who then have the potential to build on existing social capital through having to make decisions about the use of their common property. Much of the work on social capital, distributional equity, and poverty alleviation has been theoretical or speculative but our study provides empirical support for part of this work. We find that PES in these communities has strengthened social capital and collective action, including in the emergence of regional collective action in the inter-community organisation. We also find that the PES payments are perceived as fair by the communities because of the high degree of participation in distributional policies, with a modest positive effect on a multidimensional measure of poverty.

Keywords: payment for environmental services, PES, PHS, social capital, collective action, distributional equity, poverty alleviation, Oaxaca, Mexico


How to cite this article:
Nieratkaa LR, Bray DB, Mozumder P. Can Payments for Environmental Services Strengthen Social Capital, Encourage Distributional Equity, and Reduce Poverty?. Conservat Soc 2015;13:345-55

How to cite this URL:
Nieratkaa LR, Bray DB, Mozumder P. Can Payments for Environmental Services Strengthen Social Capital, Encourage Distributional Equity, and Reduce Poverty?. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2015 [cited 2019 Jul 22];13:345-55. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2015/13/4/345/179880


   Introduction Top


In various countries globally, Payments for Environmental Services (PES) programmes have been implemented in an attempt to provide financial incentives for conservation of forest cover and reduction of deforestation (Landell-Mills and Porras 2002; Kosoy et al. 2007; Muñoz-Piña et al. 2008; Bulte et al. 2008; Engel et al. 2008; Muradian et al. 2010; McAfee and Shapiro 2010). There has been much discussion on the ability of PES to work as a tool for poverty alleviation while still accomplishing its main objective of the provision of important environmental services (Landell-Mills and Porras 2002; Pagiola et al. 2005; Wunder 2008; Bulte et al. 2008). Social capital and collective action on the part of suppliers and in wider networks, and the role of common property, have been identified as important for the success of the programmes in poverty alleviation. In particular, social capital and collective action may be key in minimising transaction costs and influencing equity in the distribution of benefits, important for the legitimacy of these efforts (Rosas et al. 2004; Bulte et al. 2008; Wunder 2008).

This study aims to address the issues of social capital formation and collective action, their role in the legitimacy of the distribution of benefits, and poverty alleviation in Mexico's payment for hydrological services (PHS) programme within the context of the country's common property regimes. We do this in a case study of communities in the Sierra Norte region of the state of Oaxaca. We will briefly review relevant literature on the PHS programme in Mexico, social capital and collective action in the context of the commons, the distribution of benefits, and poverty alleviation. We address these issues with household surveys in two communities; as well as formal and informal surveys with the leadership of a six-community organisation, the Natural Resource Committee of the Upper Chinantla (CORENCHI), to which these two communities belong. All of the communities receive PHS for conservation of their common property forests. Since one primary purpose of PHS programmes is to reduce deforestation, we will also briefly address that issue. Our case study supplies ethnographic detail for understanding the conditions that lead to combined successful outcomes in social capital, distributional equity, and poverty alleviation, as well as conservation of forest cover; and thus complements recent large-N studies on the Mexican PHS program (Alix-Garcia et al. 2009; Alix-Garcia et al. 2012; Yanez-Pagans 2013). We should note that when we refer to payments for environmental services in general we use PES, but when we refer specifically to the Mexican programme we use PHS, payment for hydrological services.

The specific questions that we pursue in this study are: 1) do payments for environmental services increase social capital and collective action? 2) has the apparent presence of strong social capital and collective action institutions in our case study area led to the perception of equity in the distribution of benefits? and 3) do payments for environmental services improve the economic situations of poor households, i.e., do they alleviate poverty? (Bulte et al. 2008). Our findings suggest that, in the particular context of these communities in Oaxaca, PHS has contributed to building social capital and collective action beyond the local community; strong community participation led to a perception of equity in benefits distribution; and positive tendencies in poverty alleviation exist. In this case, government policy has strengthened community governance processes that reinforce and make more conscious and active historical virtuous behavior toward forest management.

Literature review

Mexico has one of the world's largest PHS programmes in both scope and scale (Muñoz-Piña et al. 2008). Plagued with a history of high deforestation rates, water shortages, and a history of failed attempts at deforestation reduction (although deforestation has declined since the late 1990s), Mexico implemented a PHS programme in 2003 (Muñoz-Piña et al. 2008; Alix-Garcia et al. 2009). The programme was implemented in the context of Mexico's unique system of common property land tenure. As of 2007, Mexico had 31,514 agrarian communities, in two different forms, ejidos and comunidades, covering nearly 106 million hectares or some 54% of the national territory and with an estimated 60% of the forests of Mexico in common property land tenure regimes (Madrid et al. 2009).

The purpose of the PHS programme was to give economic incentives to land owners not to deforest in areas that were both of hydrologic importance and under pressure from deforestation (Muñoz-Piña et al. 2008). The PHS is paid to participating land owners directly by the government, which receives the money from funds earmarked from fees collected from water users. The money is collected from users throughout the country and then redistributed to the communities supported under the PHS (Muñoz-Piña et al. 2008; Alix-Garcia et al 2009). By 2010, the Mexican government was reporting 4,646 communities covering nearly 2.8 million hectares under contracts (CONAFOR 2010), the majority on common property lands.

PHS in Mexico is a government run programme rather than a free market relationship between service user and service provider. Rather than basing payment on actual water produced; forest cover and forest type are used as a proxy for hydrological service provision. In this way, the PHS fits much more closely with the Muradian et al. (2010: 1205) definition of environmental services payment as 'a transfer of resources between social actors which aims to create incentives to align individual and/or collective land use decisions with the social interest in the management of natural resources', than the more strictly market-based definition by Wunder (2005). A study by Alix-Garcia et al. (2012) found that the Mexico PHS 'significantly reduced deforestation rates compared to what would have happened otherwise, but likely generated modest total avoided deforestation' (Alix-Garcia et al. 2012a: 633). Another recent study found that the Mexican PHS programme had successfully used a form of adaptive management to enroll areas over time that had both high ecological and social priority (Sims et al. 2014).

The first question we pursue is whether the PHS programme increases social capital and collective action in the context of Mexico's common property system. Most of the PES literature looking at social capital impacts is in programs where payments are made to individuals, not communities. In cases in India and Ecuador, PES helped pull individual households together and build social capital (Kerr, 2002; Echeverría, 2002). Gong et al. (2010) have shown that for a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) forestry project in India low social capital is one of the factors that led to limited project success.

On a more theoretical level, it has been suggested that PES could improve social capital. Rosa et al. (2004:189) make the case for the role of social capital in the provision of PES, defining it as 'the organisational capacities within a locality, and the ability of community members to secure resources (knowledge, public services, access to markets, etc.) as a result of engagement in social networks or other structures beyond the locality', with trust and common norms and networks being key. Bulte et al. (2008) suggest that PES could have a potential positive impact on social capital and underline the importance of collective action among suppliers of services. Muradian et al. (2010) and Vatn (2010) argue that PES could create a mechanism by which stakeholders could cooperate for the purpose of making land use management decisions. Such a mechanism could be mediated by an existing institution, like a trusted NGO, and would allow cooperation and collective action beyond a village scale. Pre-existing prosocial norms, such as a predisposition to cooperate, also buttress participation and collective action (Bowles and Gintis, 1998). Thus, community conservation where communities are well-organised with prosocial norms can create a social context that is conducive to successful PHS (Cranford and Mourato 2011).

Specifically for Mexico, Kerr et al. (2012) found in a choice experiment in five villages, all of whom were participants in the PHS program, that participation in communal activities is high without regard to payments if prosocial norms are present; although payments channeled through community authorities have lower participation if there is mistrust of leadership. The best-organised of the five communities also belonged to an inter-community forest organisation and had the highest participation and the highest trust.

Yanez-Pagans (2013) tested the impacts of PHS on cooperative behaviour within Mexican common property communities with a large sample of 1059 households in 111 common property communities that had both accepted and rejected participation in the PHS program. She analysed the effects of two types of distributional arrangements on cooperation and collective action: 1) a lump sum distribution with no work conditionalities; and 2) wages for forest conservation activities. She found that payments with no conditionalities modestly increase collective action in forest conservation, an increase of 15% in participation rates and 34% in number of days worked. This holds true when agents are subject to sanctions and their actions are monitored by the communities i.e., where there are strong prosocial norms. The role of a strong form of village governance, recognised in the Mexican constitution, and the strong incentives for collective action around management of a valuable or potentially valuable forest resource in reinforcing prosocial norms is only partially recognised in these two studies but appears to be a key factor in the success of Mexican PHS (Bray 2013).

The second issue identified as important in our case study is whether the apparent presence of strong social capital and collective action institutions is associated with the perception of equity in the distribution of benefits. As has been pointed out, PHS schemes can be economically efficient, but if they are perceived as inequitable they will lack legitimacy and lead to conflicts. Equity can refer to either procedural justice (participation in decision making) or to distributive justice (allocation of outcomes) (Pascual et al. 2010; Muradian et al. 2010). Problems associated with the distribution of benefits include elite capture and conflicts over perceptions of fairness (Muradian et al. 2010). But as Rosa et al. (2004) note, where strong social organisation or social capital is present, it can help to guarantee an equitable distribution of benefits. In the Mexican community governance system, community assemblies are able to fully participate in decision-making on the allocation of benefits, which should in principle lead to a perception of an equitable outcome. None of the published studies on PES make explicit reference to a distributional requirement that communities have the autonomy to make their own rules about allocation, but our study suggests its relevance.

Our third question is whether payments for environmental services make poor households better off or alleviate poverty (Bulte et al. 2008). When developed, the Mexican programme did not have poverty alleviation as a primary policy objective but 78% of the payments in the first few years of operation went to areas classified as economically marginal or highly marginal (Muñoz Piña et al. 2008). As the programme progressed it became more focussed on poverty alleviation and less on market efficiency and conservation, significantly due to the influence of civil society in the policy process (McAfee and Shapiro, 2010; Shapiro-Garza 2013). It is thus important to evaluate whether and in what conditions the programme has actually contributed to poverty alleviation. Poverty alleviation sits uneasily with the rationales of programmes based on the premise that environmental problems are a result of a market failure to recognise the value of positive externalities provided by natural ecosystems (Wunder 2005; Kosoy et al. 2007; Engel et al. 2008). The question of whether or not PHS can be used as poverty alleviation as well, has been addressed frequently in the literature (Landell Mills and Porras 2002: Pagiola et al. 2005; Bulte et al. 2008; Wunder 2008b; De Koning et al. 2011; Alix-Garcia et al. 2012), particularly since both poverty and hydrological services tend to be particularly concentrated in remote rural areas and in upper watersheds (Bulte et al. 2008), as in our case study in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Wunder (2008:287) emphasises the restraints that may limit the capacity of the poor to sell environmental services. He argues that insecure land tenure and the high transaction costs of working with large numbers of smallholders may inhibit buyers, although collective action may be beneficial and that the poor 'can be organised'. However, the high transaction costs can be overcome and poverty alleviation goals advanced when land tenure is secure and smallholders come 'pre-bundled' and collective action is occurring at both the community and the inter-community level, as in our case study.


   Study Site, Materials, and Methods Top


The household surveys were conducted in the two neighbouring, indigenous Chinantec communities of Santa Cruz Tepetotutla and San Pedro Tlatepusco, located in the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca, Mexico. Santa Cruz is the larger of the two towns with a population of around 700 inhabitants with 121 comuneros. San Pedro has around 200 inhabitants with 69 comuneros. Santa Cruz can be accessed by a road which was completed in 2003 but for San Pedro it is a 3-4 hour hike to the nearest road. In both communities coffee is traditionally a major source of income though it is less important now than in earlier years as a result of instability in coffee prices and abandonment of coffee fields (Hite 2011). The sites contrast in size and accessibility, but both are members of the same six-member inter-community organisation. Under Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution and agrarian laws, indigenous communities, or comunidades own their territory collectively and the management is the responsibility of the individual community members or comuneros. Within the community the decision making body is called the Assembly and consists of all the comuneros, each of whom has a single vote in majority rule decision making. Leadership roles are organised into the comisariado (President, Secretary, and Treasurer) and the three-person Oversight Council. These mandatory positions are elected, and last for three year periods, although leaders can be removed earlier by the Assembly if performance issues arise.

The two study communities are part of a six-community organisation called the Committee of Natural Resources of the Chinantla Alta (Comité Regional de Recursos naturales de la Chinantla Alta-CORENCHI). The CORENCHI communities own a total of 34,907 ha with 26,770 ha, or 77% of their total territory, certified as “Voluntary Conservation Areas” (ACVs) and as such are part of Mexico's national protected area system administered by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). This is the largest single block of certified ACVs in Mexico (Ortega del Valle et al. 2010). An ACV is essentially a formally recognised form of indigenous/community conservation area (ICCA), as defined by the IUCN (Borrini-Feyarabend et al. 2004).

Formed in 2005, CORENCHI created a joint strategy by which the member communities have placed their individual community territories under similar management rules, focussed on conservation while maintaining autonomy in decision-making, and lobbying government agencies for economic support based on their conservation achievements. They individually applied for certification of the ACVs and for the PHS programme, but have presented a united front in negotiations over these and related issues with government agencies.

The study took place in the summer of 2010, with supplementary data collected over the 2005-2012 period (Bray et al. 2012). In the two principal study communities, we conducted structured surveys of household heads focussed on sources of income, semi-structured interviews with community leaders, and informal interviews with key informants focussed on organisational processes in CORENCHI. Primary documents were obtained from community authorities on transactions within the community with respect to the distribution of benefits and related issues. The semi-structured survey asked questions of present and past community leaders for the period 1997-2010, the actions taken to participate in the PHS and how the community has benefitted or changed as a result of participation. The semi-structured surveys were recorded and were attended by a guide who translated between Spanish and Chinanteco when necessary. Structured surveys were conducted in both Santa Cruz and San Pedro, with some questions taken from a survey on coffee and emigration in Oaxaca (Lewis and Runsten 2008). Forty-eight percent of comuneros in Santa Cruz and 41% of comuneros in San Pedro completed the surveys.

Income was estimated to establish what percentage is from the payments for hydrologic services. We estimated income through questions asking about agricultural production, government programmes, remittances, and common income generating activities in which the members of the household may be involved. We found that income from PHS payments was difficult to obtain as subjects either could not remember or were unwilling to say. Community documentation of payments helped clarify this question, but some ambiguities remained and some data was eliminated due to uncertainties. Responses to income questions may have also been intentionally lower than actual incomes as there is concern within the community that the government conditional cash transfer programme Oportunidades may be taken away if the government determines incomes to be too high to qualify.

To determine poverty levels, we employed the multidimensional measure of poverty used by the Mexican government (CONEVAL 2007). This poverty measurement method uses two broad measures of economic welfare and social rights. Economic welfare includes a measure of income per capita for a basic food basket (termed 'minimum welfare') and income per capita for a second services basket that includes transportation, education, recreation, clothing, health, domestic items, and other; including the food basket (the combination of the two is termed 'welfare'). Below these monetary lines persons are not able to supply minimum nutritional or service needs.

The social indicators of poverty include educational deficiencies, access to health services, access to social security, quality and space of housing, basic services in housing, access to food, and degree of social cohesion. A person who has deficiencies in one or more of the social indicators is considered to be poor in the dimension of social rights. The indicators of social poverty are developed with considerable precision. For example, a person with educational poverty is defined as someone between 3-15 years old who has not had a defined basic education and is not attending a formal educational institution, and there are further indicators for a person born before 1982 and after 1982 (based on a 2007 baseline). Access to health services is defined by enrollment in a recognised public or private health plan. Access to social security includes participation or access to a pension programme. Poverty in housing includes indicators such as earth floors, thatch roofs, and a measure of crowding (rooms by number of inhabitants). Housing services include piped water, drainage, electricity, and dependence on firewood. Food includes a series of nutritional deficiency indicators. Finally, the degree of social cohesion is measured by a suite of indicators at the municipal level that include economic inequality, poverty rates, and social networks. All household income data in the study was collected in Mexican pesos with the results presented in USD amounts, using the average June 2010 exchange rate of 12.73 pesos to the dollar.


   Results Top


We will first present our results on contribution of the PHS payments to building social capital and collective action. Our study communities enrolled in the PHS and got certification for the ACVs in 2004 with the help of a local NGO, Geoconservacion. In 2007, both communities received an expansion of the land in the programme and in 2008 renewed the original contract. The coverage of the PHS in the two communities as of 2010 is summarised in [Table 1].
Table 1: Total Area and Payments Received in the two study communities (2010)

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We found that the study communities had a strong baseline of pre-existing prosocial norms of cooperation and collective action, i.e., social capital. The internal governance of Santa Cruz and San Pedro serves to reduce and strictly control the problems of free riders and corruption, due to strict monitoring and enforcement of community rules and sanctions for breaking them, enhancing their ability to commonly manage the resources of the forest and the PHS payments. Monitoring of cooperation and sanction of free riders and those who cheat the system is prevalent in both communities. For example, in Santa Cruz, there was a recent example of a leader who stole from the community. This individual was stripped of his leadership position and required to pay back the stolen money. In San Pedro, we documented one instance of an individual rejecting the leadership position after the Assembly elected him, and as a sanction for refusal he did not receive payments from the PHS funds for a year. Holding leadership positions is personally costly in terms of time away from personal work, particularly because participation in PHS requires meetings and travelling.

Decisions are made by the Assembly and carried out by the elected community leadership. At least once a month, and lasting as long as is necessary to arrive at a decision, meetings are called and the Assembly gathers in the community center. Issues are discussed and a vote is taken by secret ballot and with a simple majority prevailing. If 100 comuneros are present and 51 vote in favor of something, it will be accepted. When respondents were asked if there were people opposed to participation in the PHS they usually replied that there were a few, but it did not matter because the majority was in favour.

During the study period, a meeting of the Assembly was called to elect new leaders and the meeting lasted for three days from nine in the morning to six at night. Attendance of Assembly meetings is mandatory, those absent must send an adult representative from their household or pay a fine. One place where social capital, collective action, and democracy are weak is in the participation by women. This limitation comes from agrarian laws which only recognise the head of household as legal member of the agrarian communities. Thus, formal collective-decision making is largely limited to men.

We have no clear evidence that PHS contributed to build social capital and collective action at the community level since the baseline appeared to be quite high. There is however evidence that the PHS payments stimulated new investments in social capital at the inter-community level and beyond, with the PHS funds helping to serve as a catalyst for the emergence of the inter-community organisation CORENCHI. As Fox (1996) has noted for Mexico in general, the emergence of inter-community collective action is not the norm, and dense social capital at the community level can be highly segmented spatially. The communities of CORENCHI had fierce disputes over territorial boundaries in the past leading to a lack of trust and occasional violence between the communities. However, through a complex historical process at the community level, in the early 2000s a conservation-oriented community leadership emerged in Santa Cruz (Bray et al. 2012). Santa Cruz was the first community to receive a PHS payment in 2004, which community leaders saw as a validation of their conservation strategy for generating income. It also stimulated them to assume a leadership role in organising the communities in their own and an adjacent watershed—which also shared a common variant of the Chinantec language. With the support of the NGO Geoconservacion and a network of other supporters the original four communities (later joined by two more for the total of six) signed a “Regional Community Agreement for the Conservation of the Natural Resources of the Perfume and Santiago River Watersheds”, creating a new framework for collective action and regional governance between the neighbouring communities, and new interactions with NGO and government actors at higher levels. They were then able to assume a united front in negotiation for PHS and other forms of support from government and international agencies for their conservation strategy. CORENCHI went through a turbulent period in deciding on the leadership structure for the new organisation, but was able to establish new governance institutions consisting of four delegates from each community, elected by the community assembly (Bray et al. 2012).

The institutions of the community assembly and the elected leadership have allowed the communities to relatively quickly develop and change rules for the allocation of PHS funds. The PHS payments were given in a single annual payment to the community rather than individual payments. Importantly, each comunidad participating in the PHS has the ability to determine their own distributional arrangement for allocation of the payment to individual households. Yanez-Pagans (2013), in her model for the distribution of PHS funds, uses only two options for the allocation of funds (although she notes others are present): lump-sum transfers without conditions and wages for forest conservation work. However, in our study communities we find a very high degree of heterogeneity, with the lump sum and wage mechanisms present but also four additional distributional mechanisms: the allocation of funds to restricted access accounts in the name of individual households, for covering expenses of community leaders, for public goods, and for the expenses of the inter-community organisation CORENCHI. There is also a variant of the lump sum strategy with modest old age pensions paid out monthly. Moreover, this array of allocations emerged and has shifted over time. Below we will examine the heterogeneity in distribution mechanisms decided upon by the two communities. [Figure 1] shows the distribution decided upon by Santa Cruz.
Figure 1: Distribution rules established in Santa Cruz as of 2010

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As of 2010, the Santa Cruz community assembly established the rule of distributing 2.5% of the total annual payment to expenses of CORENCHI and 12% to community conservation projects, which included things like paying wages for establishing firebreaks around corn fields, thus accruing as new income. Then, 72.5% was dedicated to allocations to individual households, in three different modalities 1) 25% in direct cash payments; 2) 75% in a restricted savings account for medical needs, housing improvements, or other special needs; and 3) monthly disbursement of the entire annual allotment to the elderly (over 60) as a form of old age pension. Finally, 10% went to support the expenses of the community leadership (comisariado) and 3% was dedicated to scholarships for community youth.

The restricted access savings accounts are an unusual feature which merit special attention. The assembly in Santa Cruz reflected on the fact that government subsidies for corn, a programme called PROCAMPO, goes directly to individual producers, and is gone days after it is received and often spent on alcohol. Based on this experience, they decided on new community rules regarding the distribution of the PHS support. They established restricted access accounts for the individual households, with expenditures confined to medical expenditures, home improvements, and other special situations upon approval from the comisariado. For example, access to funds has been granted for the repayment of debt or for a community member to immigrate to the United States. No one was allowed to take out all of their money, except in the case of medical emergencies, since they would no longer be contributing to the interest gain but would still benefit from the public goods investments taken from the same general account. Santa Cruz has also showed considerable capacity for flexibility in decision-making regarding the distribution of funds, with the above scheme being actually the third set of rules for funds distribution they have established since 2004.

San Pedro decided on a different set of distribution rules, as outlined in [Figure 2] below.
Figure 2: Distribution rules established by San Pedro as of 2010

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San Pedro also decided on a highly heterogeneous distribution strategy, designed for its particular situation. San Pedro has roughly a third of the population of Santa Cruz but receives slightly more money from the PHS fund, and is also a poorer and more remote community. Thus, San Pedro agreed to the 2.5% distribution to CORENCHI, but with 80% of the income going as direct cash payments, and 17.5% going for a variety of uses including 1) comisariado costs; 2) conservation projects such as paying community members to establish firebreaks around their corn fields and for community guards who patrolled the forest (required in new community statutes); 3) community projects such as payments for the normally uncompensated community labour (tequio) for projects such as trail maintenance. The paid employment can also go to non-comunero households (commonly children of comuneros), spreading benefits more broadly; 4) in 2009, a special distribution was made to every household for materials to make chicken coops, which improves both food productivity and public health; 5) interest-free loans for health emergencies; 6) payments to outgoing members of the comisariado as modest compensation for services rendered; and 7) for buying public goods (e.g. new tubing for the potable water system).

Since the distribution rules in both cases were decided upon by the community assemblies, they exhibit both procedural justice and distributive justice (Pascual et al. 2010). It is thus no surprise that it was generally regarded as fair and equitable. In Santa Cruz 79% agreed that the distribution was fair while 4% were unsure and in San Pedro 81% agreed that it was fair. Some of the negative responses came from female respondents, a reflection of the gender equity issue in the community Assembly. The PHS did create new restrictions on forest use in the communities, and some people had to abandon fields in more distant areas to relocate in areas closer to the village. When asked if the payments from the PHS were worth the restrictions placed on use of the forest, 72% of the respondents in both communities to the surveys responded in the affirmative.

With respect to poverty alleviation and as noted in the methods section, we used the multidimensional measure of poverty used by the Mexican government (CONEVAL 2007). Our data on economic welfare, with the caveats on imprecision noted in the methods section, will allow us to compare average income levels in the two study communities with the income required for the two basic baskets of food and services. Our data on the social rights indicators does not allow us to precisely measure degrees of social poverty in most cases, but it does allow us to suggest a direction of change which appears to be positive, negative, or neutral with respect to these indicators. [Table 2] below shows the impact of the PHS payments on poverty alleviation in the two communities. For July 2010, the minimum welfare line for the monthly food basket was set at 680.23 pesos per capita per month, and the basic basket of services plus the food basket was set at 1,324.22 pesos per capita per month ('welfare').
Table 2: Monthly mean household income in Santa Cruz and San Pedro Comparisons to national poverty levels (“minimum welfare” and “welfare”) per person with and without PHS income in pesos (and USD)

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(http://www.coneval.gob.mx/Informes/Interactivo/Medicion_pobreza_2010.pdf. Accessed 7/29/13).

Our results show that with 'No PHS' Santa Cruz is just below the minimum welfare line and that San Pedro is at less than half of the minimum welfare line; so although Santa Cruz is relatively more prosperous, both are in extreme poverty. With PHS, Santa Cruz is substantially above the minimum welfare line, but still well below the welfare line. San Pedro remains below the minimum welfare line, but by a much smaller margin. This suggests that the PHS have had a modest poverty alleviation effect, but still not sufficient to lift San Pedro out of extreme poverty.

In addition to these suggested modest poverty alleviation effects, survey results show that the perception of 83.9% of the respondents in the two communities was that they were better off economically because of the payments from the PHS. We now analyse the impacts of the PHS programme on the social dimensions of poverty (CONEVAL, 2007) in the two study communities as detailed in [Table 3].
Table 3: Status of alleviation of social poverty or access to social rights in the two study communities

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With respect to educational deficiencies, the community of Santa Cruz dedicated 2.5% of the PHS funds for scholarships for students. The improved income in both communities could also have been directed towards support of students in the family. Thus, there would appear to be a positive tendency with respect to educational access. The restricted savings account in Santa Cruz and the availability of no-interest medical loans in San Pedro both constitute new access to health services. In the survey, respondents were asked to list the first and second most important items or services that they have purchased using the funds from the PHS. 'Medical costs' was the third most common first use of funds, and the second most common second use of funds. Thus, while there was no new access to a recognised public or private health plan, in Santa Cruz there was new access to an informal private health plan in the form of the restricted savings account, while in San Pedro the availability of no-interest loans suggested some improvement in ability to access health services. For social security, Santa Cruz dedicated part of the direct payments to monthly allotments for senior citizens, an informal private pension plan. There was no specific consideration of seniors in San Pedro, although the direct cash distribution would have benefited comunero seniors and their families, so again a positive tendency can be attributed.

With respect to housing, the most common first use of funds was for construction materials, reported by over one-third of respondents. In San Pedro, it was commonly reported that the PHS funds allowed people to convert traditional mud floor, thatched roof homes into homes with cement floors, concrete walls and roofs. Both communities already have piped water and electricity in most homes, but the construction materials could also have been used to improve services, so a positive trend in improvement of housing and housing services appears to be present. With respect to nutrition, food was the second most common first use of the PHS funds, with 26% reporting that use, and the most common second use, with 33% reporting purchasing food, across both communities. This suggests that there has been a positive tendency with respect to increased ability to buy food, although our data does not allow us to know the nutritional quality of the food, so we will term this neutral in terms of the tendency. With respect to social cohesion, the high degree of community decision-making ability suggests a significant degree of social capital and social cohesion in the communities. The decision by the communities to invest in the regional community governance institution of CORENCHI also suggests an extension of social cohesion and social capital beyond the community level.

The use of the funds in the two study communities also suggest varying ways that poverty may be alleviated which were not anticipated in the Mexican multidimensional poverty indicators. For example, before the payments, most community members only had income in lump sums when there was a coffee harvest. In both communities, the money from the PHS provides not only a new, one-time cash infusion; if paid out as a direct distribution, but also as wages paid out in different times of the year. This helps residents meet needs between harvests, providing more income smoothing through the year. In Santa Cruz, funds were used to buy a community van that provided improved transportation, and to finish an ecotourism station that provided a minor but new source of income for the community. In both communities the fund has been an important resource for the community leaders. Finally, the dedication of 2.5% of the PHS to the expenses of CORENCHI appears to improve community representation and the possibility of access to other sources of government and NGO support.


   Discussion Top


We asked three questions with respect to our case study communities 1) Is there evidence that PHS increased social capital and collective action? 2) Is there any relationship between social capital, collective action, and perceptions of equity in benefits distribution? and 3) Have PHS made households better off? As previously mentioned, most studies other than those conducted in Mexico have examined whether payments to individual landowners encourage social capital (Kerr 2002; Echeverría 2002), and most of the work on PHS and social capital has been theoretical or speculative (Rosa et al. 2004; Bulte et. al 2008; Vatn 2010). The studies by Kerr et al. (2012) and Yanez-Pagans (2013) in Mexico on prosocial behavior and cooperation respectively—concepts related to social capital—had experimental controls and comparisons that we did not use and looked closely at the relationship between payment forms and resulting prosocial or cooperative behavior. Given the very high prosocial norms and collective action in our study communities, increasingly around conservation actions, and the wide variety of payment allocations adopted, we have no reason to think that forms of payment influenced different outcomes in prosocial behavior around conservation. However, the presence of the payments did stimulate a flurry of innovative and adaptive community thinking about the optimal allocation of a new common financial resource. As well, the theoretical suggestion that PHS can create cooperative mechanisms for linking decisions across stakeholders in a framework of existing governance institutions has found an empirical foundation in the CORENCHI experience (Vatn 2010; Bray et al. 2012). Additionally, the relationship between PHS and collective decision-making in this context led to such institutional innovations as social security and health savings institutions, highly unusual in rural Mexico. Thus, we believe ours is the first study that documents an outcome of increased social capital and collective action around the design of payment allocations at the community level and increased collective action around forest conservation activities at the inter-community level. This is the only known case in Mexico where PHS has led to this kind of regional collective action. However, this coalition may be fragile, and as of 2013 one community had withdrawn from CORENCHI due to concerns about the implications of the PHS programme over rights over their territory. This withdrawal is now under discussion among the communities and it is not considered definitive, as of this writing, and the rest of the organisation appears to be stable.

The strengthening of collective action around the design of PHS allocation schemes also appears to have led to a perception of equity or 'distributive justice' (Pascual et al. 2010) on the part of community members. Communal decision-making around a forest common property appears to address the equity concerns of funds going only to rich land owners that is experienced in other programmes (Kosoy et al. 2007; Wunder 2008). Also notable is the high degree of heterogeneity in the allocation mechanisms, and the way in which the allocation decisions have shifted over time in response to learning and new circumstances, a form of adaptive management. However, such heterogeneity seems to be the norm when communities can tailor the payments to their own needs. For example, Alix-Garcia et al. (2009) found in a study of 27 ejidos that 18% distributed all of the funds directly to the ejido members, 22% used all of the money for wages for conservation related forestry activities, 18% gave all of the payments to investment in non-forest related public goods but nearly half, 42%, invested the funds in a combination of the three strategies. In the analytical framework established by Ostrom (1990), the communities have full autonomy in the collective choice and operational choice arenas to establish their own allocation rules for this new common resource, and they have used it flexibly and intelligently.

We found that in the two case study communities PHS had a modest impact on poverty alleviation, with one community moving above a minimum poverty line, with the second one moving to just below it. Social measures of poverty mostly showed movement in positive directions, many related to collective decision-making around distribution. The suggestion by Wunder (2008: 287) that the poor 'can be organised' to promote poverty alleviation also appears to have found empirical expression in these highly organised communities of poor people. However, in the Mexican case, the institutionalised structure of community governance and responsibility for a forest territory has provided strong baseline structures and incentives for organisation that has been further strengthened by the environmental services payments.

Finally, and as previously noted, the primary purpose of PHS is to reduce deforestation or conserve forest cover from other alternative uses. There is evidence both nationally and in our study communities that the PHS programme has made at least modest contributions to this goal. Alix-Garcia et al. (2012), as noted earlier, found that nationally there was a significant reduction in deforestation rates. Velasco et al. (2014) in a study of forest cover processes in the region that includes the CORENCHI communities found very high and increasing forest cover beginning from a 1990 baseline, both in Santa Cruz and San Pedro, and in the CORENCHI communities as a whole. In the CORENCHI communities, forest cover increased from 90.1% from 1990-2000 to 92.85 in 2000-2010. Given an existing trend towards higher forest cover from a very high base in 1990 it would be difficult to attribute the further rise to PHS. Rather, the payments here seem to have functioned to reward and encourage existing virtuous behavior toward the forests and preventing potential changes towards more destructive behaviors, rather than avoided deforestation.


   Conclusions Top


Our case study of communities in CORENCHI may be considered a heuristic, outlier case study (George and Bennett 2005; Bray et al. 2012), both in Mexico and globally. The CORENCHI communities have virtually none of the barriers to PHS participation identified by Wunder (2008). Under Mexican agrarian law their ownership of the land is clear and legally secure and they desired to participate because their opportunity costs for conservation were very low, given generally large territories and low populations. They actively saw the programme as a means to generate income and the ability to participate was high since communities had solid village governance under Mexican agrarian laws, with assemblies of rights holders electing leadership which was held accountable. They had the support of a trusted NGO and the communities are predisposed to cooperation and more recently to conservation, with an emerging block of conservation-minded leaders. Transaction costs are low since negotiations were with the community as a whole through the Assembly and not with individual small landholders. The community is the single beneficiary of the payment and the distribution of the money within the organisation is done based on decisions by the community assembly.

Participation in the monitoring and enforcement of community and external rules of the forest common property is active, an indication of a high number of conditional cooperators (Rustagi et al. 2010) in the population, suggesting also that strong prosocial norms enforce cooperation.

Further, of the nearly 5,000 communities that have been supported in the Mexican PHS programme, we know of no other case where the payments have been documented as driving a process of inter-community organisation at the regional level. Adhikari and Agrawal (2013) recently evaluated 23 case studies of PHS on the outcome variables of equity, participation, livelihoods, and environmental sustainability, and found no cases that ranked high on all four factors. We suggest that our study communities constitute such a case. We have suggested some of the factors that may have led to these successful outcomes elsewhere, although there is likely also a considerable degree of historical contingency at work (Bray et al. 2012). Muradian et al. (2010: 1206) have characterised the Mexican policy of PHS in general as a 'reward for good environmental stewardship framed by rural development policies, instead of a market transaction between the State and rural communities' and our study represents relative success in rewarding good environmental stewardship and rural development.

PHS has become increasingly controversial as the academic literature continues to burgeon and the experiences in actual market-based environmental services projects continue to be very limited (Wunder 2013). PHS has been faulted for merely being a stalking horse for 'neoliberal conservation' which is all about manipulative marketing and doomed attempts to use capitalist markets to address the 'ecological contradictions' they have created (Büscher 2012). It has also been pointed out that they are seldom in reality, market-based; that broader structures of power influence outcomes more than technical design, that monetary incentives can crowd out intrinsic motivation, that market-valued services cannot compete with the boom in traditional commodities, and that attention should be paid to evaluating the conditions under which PHS makes a significant contribution to ecosystem conservation (Muradian et al. 2013). Our case study suggests some of those conditions. As described above, where communities have clear rights, established governance structures recognised at multiple levels, strong prosocial norms, and strong motivation to use conservation to generate income; a state financed and administered transfer PHS programme such as the one in Mexico can stimulate increased social capital in institutional design at the community level and collective action at the inter-community level, equity in distribution of benefits, and at least modest poverty alleviation in multiple economic and social dimensions. This suggests that government policy that rewards and further encourages community organisation and historical virtuous behavior towards forests should be a part of any effective and legitimate PHS programme.[42]

 
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