Despite the billions spent on programmes to conserve ecosystems and help poor communities, there is rarely good evidence that these projects have their intended impacts. In the Santa Cruz valleys of Bolivia, a large-scale experiment is underway to evaluate the impact of payments for ecosystem services (PES) scheme on water quality, biodiversity, forest cover and the socioeconomic welfare of the poor in Bolivia’s farming communities. This is being done by testing a forest conservation scheme across 130 villages, divided randomly into groups who do or do not receive payments for protecting forested watersheds. The project is using a controlled experimental design modelled on the natural sciences and will show whether conditional in-kind payments for conservation actually lead to environmental and economic improvements, to shed new light on the relationship between poverty and ecosystem service provision. The results will provide useful feedback for NGOs and governments rolling out similar schemes elsewhere. And it is hoped that the project’s scientific approach will serve as a model for other action-research groups.
ESPA. Do ecosystem conservation projects work? How can NGOs and donors measure the impact of work on forest conservation and poverty? UK (2011) 2 pp.