Payments for ecosystem services in Mexico: Nature, neoliberalism, social movements, and the state

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Prominent advocates of payments for ecosystem services (PES) contend that markets in biodiversity, carbon storage, and hydrological services can produce both conservation and sustainable development. In Mexico's national PES programs, however, conceived as models of market-based management, efficiency criteria have clashed with antipoverty goals and an enduring developmental-state legacy. Like other projects for commodification of nature, Mexico's PES is a hybrid of market-like mechanisms, state regulations, and subsidies. It has been further reshaped by social movements mobilized in opposition to neoliberal restructuring. These activists see ecosystem services as coproduced by nature and campesino communities. Rejecting the position of World Bank economists, they insist that the values of ecosystems derive less from the market prices of their services than from their contributions to peasant livelihoods, biodiversity, and social benefits that cannot be quantified or sold. These divergent conceptualizations reflect contrasting understandings of the roles of agriculture and of the state in sustainable development. The Mexican case exposes contradictions within neoliberal environmental discourse based on binary categories of nature and society. It suggests that conservation policies in the global South, if imposed from the North and framed by neoliberal logic, are likely to clash with state agendas and local development goals. © 2010 by Association of American Geographers.






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McAfee, K, and EN Shapiro (2010). Payments for ecosystem services in Mexico: Nature, neoliberalism, social movements, and the state. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 100(3). pp. 579–599. 10.1080/00045601003794833 Retrieved from

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Shapiro - Garza

Elizabeth Shapiro - Garza

Associate Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy and Management in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Environmental Policy and Management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. She serves as the Faculty Director for Engaged Scholarship for Duke University, the Director for Community Engagement for the Duke University Superfund Research Center and the Director of the graduate Certificate in Community-Based Environmental Management. 

Shapiro-Garza is Human-Environment Geographer whose research explores the ways in which human communities interact with environmental initiatives and approaches meant to influence their management practices and behaviors and the role that broader economic, political or policy trends, as well as inequality in access to power and resources, play in those dynamics and outcomes. She is a broadly trained social scientist with a primary methodological specialization in qualitative methods and analysis. Depending on the questions raised, she collaborates with economists, ecologists, remote sensing specialists, and environmental and public health researchers. Applying the framing and methods from these multiple disciplines, she conducts research on the following topics:

  • Market-Based Environmental Policies and Programs
  • Payments for Ecosystem Services in Mexico                                                                       
  • Climate Change Mitigation through Forest-Based Carbon Offsetting in Peru and Mexico
  • Climate Change Adaptation by Smallholder Coffee Producers in Latin America
  • Environmental Health and Justice in North Carolina

In exploring these topics, she has partnered with agricultural cooperatives, indigenous communities, government agencies and community-based non-profits in Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Colombia, Guatemala and the southeastern United States. Her research is published in highly ranked, peer-reviewed journals in geography and in the fields of her collaborators, as well as in fora and formats relevant to the policy makers, practitioners and the communities with whom she partners. The most substantive funders of this scholarship are the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, the Tinker Foundation, and the International Institute for Impact Evaluation (3ie) Foundation.

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.