Contesting market-based conservation: Payments for ecosystem services as a surface of engagement for rural social movements in Mexico

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The Mexican National Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) programs, which provide financial incentives for rural landholders to conserve forest, were originally designed under the logic of market-based conservation. Based on a multi-sited, multi scalar ethnography of the Mexican national PES programs, this article examines the process through which a national rural social movement was able to redefine the market-based narrative of PES, the historical and political context that provided this window of opportunity, and the ways in which their engagement led to a hybridization of the policy itself. The involvement of the rural social movement introduced a very different conception of PES – as a recognition by Mexico’s federal state and urban society of the value of campesino environmental stewardship and an economic support to allow them to remain on the land. Their direct involvement in the redesign of the programs had a significant impact on their conformation that reflected this vision of revaluing the rural: the inclusion of agroforests and sustainably managed timber lands; requirements for self-defined forest management plans; provision of dedicated funding for technical assistance; and the training of local extensionists. I believe that in mapping the evolution of the Mexican national PES program we can begin to see how, in this particular place and time, rural social movements employed PES as a "useful surface of engagement" (Escobar 1999, p. 13) for contesting the market-based notions of the federal state, international lending institutions and conservation NGOs. I position this analysis in the context of the global project of “grabbing green” and as an example of the frictions that can inhibit and even partially reverse the logic of the seemingly inexorable rise of market-based conservation policy and projects.





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