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Buying Conservation - Financial Incentives for Tropical Forest Conservation in the Ecuadorian Amazon

  • Torsten Krause
Publishing year: 2013
Language: English
Document type: Dissertation

Abstract english

Popular Abstract in English

The conservation of forests is receiving increasing international attention. News reports of rampant deforestation for oil palm plantations in Indonesia or soy and cattle ranching in Brazil are the visible images that many of us know. Combating the loss of forests and mitigating climate change through the prevention of further carbon emissions to the atmosphere are prominent goals in global environment governance. In the quest for solutions and to reduce deforestation, monetary payments for forest conservation have become the preeminent approach in the last decade, used more and more worldwide.

Confronted by one of the highest rates of deforestation in South America, the Ecuadorian government decided to implement a conservation incentive program in 2008. Landowners can voluntary sign up and then receive yearly payments for a period of 20 years, provided they agree not to cut down trees or to change the ecosystem in any way. Indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon own large territories with remaining tropical rainforests. Many Indigenous communities decided to participate in the government’s conservation incentive program and now receive payments for their environmental stewardship.

What are the social and environmental effects of the conservation payments in Indigenous communities? Who benefits from the incentives and who does not? What changes are people in the communities experiencing? What are the long-term consequences of paying people for being environmental stewards? This thesis explores the different dimensions of the Socio Bosque program, with a focus on the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Market-based instruments have become a widely used approach to motivate landowners to conserve forests instead of clearing them. However, such market-based instruments are increasingly criticized for their simplistic view on complex environmental, social and economic issues; for their ethical stance; and for creating exchange value for essential ecosystems services, which potentially perpetuates a flawed economic system.

This dissertation analyses the potential of market-based instruments, in particular the use of financial incentives, to promote forest conservation and deliver social economic benefits. I study the Socio Bosque Program in order to understand to what extent both forest conservation and social objectives can be achieved through the implementation of a market-based instrument. Landowners and communities voluntarily join Socio Bosque and agree to preserve the ecosystem on their land and for that they receive yearly incentive payments for a period of 20 years. I focus on Indigenous communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon region.

The incentive payments have diverse social and environmental effects. On a national level, the benefits of participating in Socio Bosque are not equitably distributed among regions and the participating landowners. An analysis of five Indigenous communities shows that although communities may benefit at large, the costs and benefits of conservation are unequally distributed within communities. Participation in decision-making about incentive use and information about the conservation program itself is weak among people who live in the communities studied. This is especially so for women and people who are not full community members. The emergence of conflicts due to the mismanagement of the incentives within communities is another outcome. Furthermore, the focus on forest and tree cover as an indicator for conservation success is insufficient, ignoring the complexity of tropical forest ecology and the importance of locally overhunted seed dispersing animal species. My study shows that money, as an agent of change for forest conservation, has to be seen with caution. The continuous support and meaningful participation of Indigenous communities who are forest owners is a key requirement for a more equitable, effective and inclusive long-term forest conservation. Although financial incentives can address poverty and help to conserve forests in the short run, this approach cannot compete against the underlying causes of deforestation, the increasing demand for raw materials and natural resources that are found in and under tropical forest areas.


Världen, Geocentrum 1, Sölvegatan 10, Lund
  • Richard Norgaard (Professor)


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Socio Bosque
  • Forest Conservation
  • Incentive-based instruments
  • Ecuador
  • Indigenous Communities


  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability-lup-obsolete
  • Lennart Olsson
  • ISBN: 978-91-979832-3-5
Torsten Krause
E-mail: torsten [dot] krause [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se

Associate senior lecturer

LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

+46 73 423 94 15

Josephson 211B

Josephson, Biskopsgatan 5,


P.O. Box 170, SE-222 70 Lund, Sweden
Phone: +46(0)46- 222 80 81
info [at] lucsus [dot] lu [dot] se