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‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ and Property : The Expansion of Exclusionary Land Management Practices in Costa Rica
journal contributionposted on 16.02.2016, 11:45 by Brett Sylvester Matulis
The practice of making “payments for ecosystem services” (PES) is about the formation of new social relations between land managers and the human beneficiaries of functioning ecological systems. More specifically, it is about establishing economic relations that (theoretically) transfer financial resources from “users” of services to “producers” who institute prescribed land management practices. Interpreted as a form of “neoliberal conservation”, this approach to environmental governance can be seen as a driving force in the commodification, marketization, and financialization of nature. Hinging on “clearly defined and enforced” property rights, it can also be seen as a factor in the expansion of individualized private ownership. Troubled by this renewed prospect of privatization, critical scholars have done well to challenge the new enclosures of land and resources. But what about when PES operates in areas where private ownership rights are robust and widespread? Are we to believe that the tendency towards privatization poses no threat because those areas are already “lost” to private ownership? This paper considers how the social relationships that constitute property are shifting under the prescribed management practices of PES. I present evidence from Costa Rica’s national PES program to suggest that, even on lands that are ostensibly already privately owned, these new practices are resulting in an expansion of exclusionary management. The objective is to demonstrate some of the reasons why financialized approaches to conservation are a problem in “already neoliberal” economies and to offer some conceptual tools for challenging the uncritical assumption that PES is harmless in areas where private ownership is already well established.