Resolving the Conflict Between Ecosystem Protection and Land Use


Environmental Management (2012) 49:649–662 DOI 10.1007/s00267-011-9799-9

Resolving the Conflict Between Ecosystem Protection and Land Use in Protected Areas of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico Sergio Cortina-Villar • He´ctor Plascencia-Vargas Rau´l Vaca • Go¨tz Schroth • Yatziri Zepeda • Lorena Soto-Pinto • Jose´ Nahed-Toral

Received: 6 May 2011 / Accepted: 5 December 2011 / Published online: 5 January 2012 Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Abstract Livelihoods of people living in many protected areas (PAs) around the world are in conflict with biodiversity conservation. In Mexico, the decrees of creation of biosphere reserves state that rural communities with the right to use buffer zones must avoid deforestation and their land uses must become sustainable, a task which is not easily accomplished. The objectives of this paper are: (a) to analyze the conflict between people’s livelihoods and ecosystem protection in the PAs of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas (SMC), paying special attention to the rates and causes of deforestation and (b) to review policy options to ensure forest and ecosystem conservation in these PAs, including the existing payments for environmental services system and improvements thereof as well as options for sustainable land management. We found that the three largest PAs in the SMC are still largely forested, and deforestation rates have decreased since 2000. Cases of forest conversion are located in specific zones and are related to agrarian and political conflicts as well as growing economic inequality and population numbers. These problems could cause an increase in forest loss in the near future. Payments for environmental services and access to carbon markets are identified as options to ensure forest S. Cortina-Villar (&)  H. Plascencia-Vargas  R. Vaca  L. Soto-Pinto  J. Nahed-Toral El Colegio de la Frontera Sur-Area de Sistemas de Produccio´n, Carretera Panamericana y Perife´rico Sur S/N Barrio Marı´a Auxiliadora, San Cristo´bal de Las Casas, CHIS 29290, Mexico e-mail: [email protected] G. Schroth Mars Incorporated and Federal University of Western Para´, Santare´m, Brazil Y. Zepeda Conservacio´n Internacional, Tuxtla Gutie´rrez, CHIS, Mexico

permanence but still face problems. Challenges for the future are to integrate these incentive mechanisms with sustainable land management and a stronger involvement of land holders in conservation. Keywords Biodiversity conservation  Deforestation  Payments for environmental services  People’s livelihoods  Shade coffee  Cattle ranching  Biosphere reserves

Introduction Biodiversity protection and rural people’s livelihoods are often in conflict, and maximizing one of these goals is often detrimental to the other. Many protected areas (PAs) in developing countries have been created in areas that were used or inhabited by poor, rural populations and this has led to the prohibition of certain traditional land and forest uses, or in more drastic cases the total loss of land rights (Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau 2006). Biosphere reserves, a category of PAs, represent a challenge for biodiversity conservation and regional development in that their explicit goal is simultaneously to support the livelihoods of their human populations and to protect their natural ecosystems (Cernea and Schmidt-Soltau 2006). Payment for environmental services (PES) schemes have been proposed as a new tool to help solve the conflict between conservation and local livelihoods. Although PES do not have poverty alleviation as an explicit objective, the idea of rewarding landowners for conserving natural ecosystems that provide environmental services has generated optimism concerning the positive side-effects on poor people’s wellbeing. However, the discussion persists about how well PES benefit the poor (Pagiola and others 2005).



Many PES schemes have been implemented around the world, ranging from national publicly funded to small-scale private led programs. Mexico has examples of the former PES programs. In 2003, the National Forest Commission (CONAFOR) initiated the Payments for Hydrological Environmental Services Program (PSAH, for its Spanish acronym), which aimed to provide economic incentives to forest-holders for forest conservation. In the first national convocation, only properties located in overexploited watersheds or water scarce areas were eligible (Alix-Garcia and others 2005) which largely excluded the southern, relatively wet state of Chiapas. In 2004, CONAFOR expanded the target regions to include areas at risk of hydrological disasters and PAs. In addition, the federal government created the Program of Payments for Carbon Sequestration, Biodiversity and Agroforestry Services (PSA-CABSA, for its Spanish acronym). Areas to receive PSAH were contracted over a 5-year period at $40 US dollars/year/hectare for cloud forest and $30 US dollars for other types of forest, committing the respective land holders to not changing the forest cover in the contracted areas (Alix-Garcia and others 2005).

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In this paper, we analyze the conflict between biodiversity conservation and people’s livelihoods in three PAs of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico, from a historical and current policy perspective. We identify the predominant types of deforestation, their causes and the actors involved. Then, we review three options to stop forest loss that supposedly are compatible with people’s livelihoods: (a) the PES schemes that are in use in the area, (b) the proposed changes of current land uses to make them more compatible with forest and ecosystem conservation and (c) engaging communities in conservation.

Site Description and Historical Overview The Sierra Madre de Chiapas (SMC) is a rugged mountain range that extends for more than 250 km parallel to the Pacific coastline in the southernmost State of Mexico (Fig. 1). It covers about 1.8 million ha, rises to 4,080 m above sea level at its highest peak (Tacana´ Volcano) and is of global importance for biodiversity conservation, hosting over 2,000 species of plants and at least 600 species of

Fig. 1 Protected areas in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico. Sources: Digital elevation maps and roads maps from the National Institute of Geography, Statistics and Information (INEGI). Boundaries of protected areas from the National Council of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP)


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terrestrial vertebrates. Several important and highly biodiverse mountain ecosystems are present such as cloud forest, tropical deciduous forest, and evergreen tropical forest, each harboring a significant number of endemic and endangered species (INE 1999a, b). The SMC also provides valuable environmental services. It is a water catchment area for urban centers (Tuxtla Gutierrez and Tapachula), surrounding towns, agricultural plains and the most important complex of hydroelectric power plants in the country, which is located in the Grijalva watershed. In addition, the SMC has considerable potential for carbon sequestration and storage. The PA system of the SMC comprises the Biosphere Reserves of La Sepultura (decreed in 1995), El Triunfo (1990), and Volca´n Tacana´ (2003); the Area for the Protection of Natural Resources La Frailescana (1979), and the State Reserve Pico El LoroPaxtal (2000). This paper focuses on the three largest PAs, La Sepultura, La Frailescana, and El Triunfo. In prehispanic times, the intermountain valleys in the northwest of the SMC were occupied by Olmec, Zoque and Chiapanecan ethnic groups. The Aztecs established trade routes through the coastal plain and controlled the southern area. In the highest parts of the SMC, only a small group of Mames lived near the Guatemalan border (Garcı´a de Leo´n 1985). All these groups practiced slash and burn agriculture, but in some places cultivated land more intensively. The new diseases and exploitation brought by the Spaniard domination resulted in demographic disaster for the indigenous population (Gerhard 1991) leaving most of the SMC practically uninhabited through colonial times and the first half of the 19th century (De Vos 1994). The second half of the 19th century witnessed the rapid expansion of big coffee estates and extensive livestock ranches. The former spread from Guatemala and the foothills of Tacana´ Volcano to the mid-elevation slopes of the SMC and the latter from the valleys of the NW to the higher elevations causing the deforestation of large areas (Waibel 1946). The estates and ranches attracted temporary and permanent workers, many of whom were indigenous people from Guatemala and later on from the densely populated central highlands of Chiapas. These established

small settlements in the proximities of the ranches and estates where they grew maize and beans for subsistence, thereby further expanding the agricultural frontier. In the 1930s, as part of its agrarian reform program, the government granted land titles to landless people under a special form of property called ejido. Ejido land was granted from land belonging to the federation or was expropriated from private holdings that were larger than 300 ha, the maximum area permitted by the constitution of 1917 (Collier 1994). Ejidos tended to be located on poorer land since the large landowners kept most of their best lands, located in the middle elevations of SMC. As time passed, the local population grew in numbers, and more ejidos were created. Other immigrants arrived spontaneously and acquired land as private owners where they founded individual farms. In the 1990s, when the government decreed the biosphere reserves of El Triunfo and La Sepultura, more than three quarters of the new PAs belonged not only to people living within their boundaries but also to several communities located in their surroundings (Table 1). The government acknowledged that land holders who had been present prior to the decrees were entitled to keep and use their lands (DOF 1990, 1995). As a consequence, the buffer zones were formed with most of the proprietors’ land, whereas land that still belonged to the federation was converted into several core areas, all of which were located around mountain peaks (Fig. 1). In El Triunfo, federal land provided a core area almost equivalent to one quarter of the reserve area, but in La Sepultura only 4% of the total area belonged to the federation. To increase the core area of La Sepultura, around 5000 ha of ejido property were included, implying more restrictive land use conditions for its inhabitants because only ecosystem protection, scientific research and environmental education were permitted in these core areas. In the buffer zones traditional land uses were permitted under the condition that they would become ‘‘sustainable’’. The term sustainability was used first in the 1995 decree but it was only defined in 1999 through the management plans (INE 1999a, b). To become sustainable was defined as replacing a

Table 1 Basic characteristics of the three larger protected areas in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico PA

Year of decree

Total area (ha)

Property rights before the decrees (% of total reserve area) Ejido communities

Private properties

Core area (%)

Federation land

La Sepultura







La Frailescana







El Triunfo







Sources: INE (1999a, b) NA information not available a

La Frailescana is presently being converted into a biosphere reserve, and core protected zones are being identified in the process



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Table 2 Main permitted (‘‘sustainable’’) and not permitted (‘‘unsustainable’’) land uses in the protected areas of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico Not permitted (‘‘unsustainable’’) land uses

Permitted (‘‘sustainable’’) land uses

Food cropping under shifting cultivation (Milpa)a

Agro-ecologic, organic milpa

Conventional coffee plantation

Organic coffee plantation

Extensive cattle ranching

Intensive cattle ranching

Unplanned and illegal forestry

Planned and legal forestry

Sources: INE (1999a, b) a

The clear-cutting of up to 10 year-old secondary vegetation is permitted in La Sepultura

traditional land use for an alternative use as defined in these documents (Table 2). Communities were given an unspecified time to adopt the necessary changes. Forest clearing, hunting and the collection of endangered species were forbidden. As a consequence of the 1994 Zapatista rebellion in the Highlands and Lacandona regions of the state of Chiapas, many people in rural areas organized themselves to seize land in many parts of Chiapas and several properties were occupied within the PAs of the SMC. Although the decrees of the biosphere reserves forbade the establishment of new settlements, the government bought the invaded land from the original owners and gave it to the invaders in the form of ejido communities or small private properties to solve the conflicts peacefully (Reyes 2008). Between 1997 and 2002, a total of 79 properties in La Sepultura and 10 properties in El Triunfo with a total area of over 10,000 ha were bought and handed over to the occupants, who received on average 5 ha/family. This process helps to explain the more than doubling of the total population of the three PAs between 1990 and 2005 (Table 3) and the considerable increase in the number of hamlets and villages (Fig. 2). The large population increase in the 1990s contrasts with the slightly negative growth in two of the three PAs in the period from 2000 to 2005 (Table 3). This is probably due to the restrictions now effectively imposed to the establishment of new settlements and a high emigration rate. In 2005, two-thirds of the population lived in 62 villages with a population of between 100 and 1,000; the remainder resided in 686 hamlets with less than 100 people (INEGI 2011). Table 3 Population increase within the major protected areas in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico, between 1990 and 2005 Year

La Sepultura

La Frailescana

El Triunfo


1990 2000

2,809 9,179

3,133 8,422

7,690 10,128

13,612 27,729






Source: INEGI (2011)


Methods To obtain a picture of land use and deforestation in the three PAs, we compared a digital version of the land use map of the National Institute of Geography, Statistics and Informatics (INEGI 1984), based on aerial photographs taken in the 1970s, with the 2,000 National Forest Inventory Map, which was produced from Landsat TM satellite images (Palacio-Prieto and others 2000). ArcView 3.2 software was used to measure the area of each land cover and land use class. Because these maps were elaborated with different instruments and classification schemes, some generalizations had to be made. One was to consider mature forest, old-growth secondary vegetation, and disturbed forest as one class. To update the data on forest loss, we compared two forest maps produced from two coregistered mosaics of ASTER satellite classified images that covered the study area. One mosaic was formed with scenes from 2001 to 2003, and the other with scenes from 2006 to 2008. A supervised classification method was applied following Steininger and others (2006). Processing was carried out using Erdas Imagine version 8.7 and GRASS 6.3 software. We used the three bands in the visible and near infrared (VNIR) part of the spectrum, which have a 15 m spatial resolution and the first three of the six short wave bands (SWIR), with 30 m spatial resolution. Training areas for different cover types were created using public domain high resolution imagery available through Google Earth, and ground-truth sites for El Triunfo were provided by the local non-profit organization BIOCORES. The Sequential Maximum A Posteriori classification algorithm (SMAP in GRASS 6.3) was applied to produce the land cover maps (Bouman and Shapiro 1994). To test the accuracy of the resulting vegetation cover maps for both dates, we obtained a random sample of 1,675 points, generated over the high resolution imagery available through Google Earth. Confusion matrices were generated (Rosenfield and Fitzpatrick-Lins 1986). Overall agreement for classification was 89%. The Kappa Index of Agreement was 78% (95% confidence intervals between 75 and 81%). To explore the deforestation causes and identify the deforestation agents, we interviewed the federal authorities in charge of the three PAs who indicated the zones with ongoing deforestation, forest fragmentation and illegal occupation on a map. We visited eight out of 14 of these zones (Fig. 3), where we interviewed community authorities and members, often in meetings, who were selected deliberately. In a total of 25 interviews in 16 communities, the following common set of themes were addressed with the interviewees: the origin of the settlement, population growth, land uses practiced, land clearing, participation in payments for environmental services schemes, land tenure

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Fig. 2 Position of hamlets and villages in three protected areas in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico, in 1990 (a) and 2005 (b). Source: Digital maps of towns and cities from the National Institute of Geography, Statistics and Information (INEGI)



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Fig. 3 General boundaries of zones in the protected areas in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico, with ongoing deforestation, forest fragmentation or illegal occupation (according to environmental authorities), ground truth sites and communities where interviews

were conducted in this study. Source: Zones with forest conservation problems and protected areas boundaries from the National Council of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP)

issues, sales of agricultural and forest products, landslides, and forest fires. We also talked to staff members of two local organizations that buy coffee, one administrator of a big coffee plantation estate, two staff members of nongovernmental organizations that promote organic coffee, and two local officers who worked in the government agency in charge of PAs. In addition, we recorded land use and land cover data in 230 field sites, whose location were established with a GPS receiver.

cover of about 12% of the total area (0.6% per year), equivalent to 53,186 ha, from 1970 to 2000 (Table 4). The most affected types of vegetation were the old secondary semi-evergreen rainforest and the pine-oak forest, which lost 50 and 14% of their 1970 area, respectively. Annual cropping, mostly for maize and beans, is the land use whose expansion has most contributed to forest loss. It takes place mainly in the lower valleys and foothills, where the soil is deeper and less steep, and the use of machinery or teams of oxen is possible. The expansion of annual cropping prior to 2000 cannot be extrapolated to later dates because recent reports indicate that cattle grazing has been displacing this land use as the prices of agricultural inputs and outputs have turned unfavorable to the farmers and rural out-migration has increased (Garcı´aBarrios and others 2009). The area under coffee increased by 2% of the total area of the three reserves between 1975 and 2000 (Table 4). However, the difference in coffee area among the three

Results and Discussion Land Use and Deforestation The livelihoods of the people living within and around the three PAs depend largely on shade coffee production, maize cultivation, cattle grazing, and the harvesting of timber and non-timber products. These activities caused a loss of forest


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Table 4 Land use and land cover change in three protected areas of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico, between 1975 and 2000 Land cover, land use

1975 (%)

2000 (%)

Total change (%)

Annual cropping





Coffee plantations










Young secondary vegetation










Annual rate of change (%)

Sources: INEGI (1984) and Palacio-Prieto and others (2000)

PAs was considerable. Coffee occupied 10% of El Triunfo where it is found between 700 and 1600 m elevation. In contrast, in La Frailescana and La Sepultura, where the climate is less humid, coffee plantations represented less than 1% of the total area and occurred only in the highest parts of the catchments. Some caution is necessary in that the area occupied by coffee plantations may have been underestimated because many of them have abundant native tree shade and are difficult to distinguish from natural forests by remote sensing. Environmental authorities pointed out that coffee plantations have been displacing cloud forests through planting in the understory in a process of ‘‘hidden conversion’’ whereas some farmers claimed that they were introducing coffee not in mature forests but in secondary vegetation that they had left to regrow after slash-and-burn agriculture many years ago. Grasslands showed the slowest increase (1%), but were the most extensive agricultural land use in the reserves in 2000, covering 9% of their total area. However, the total area used by cattle, which are used for meat and dairy, is even higher. Nahed and Aguilar (2009) found in a sample of 117 cattle owning households that only 41% of their grazing land was open grassland, the remainder being grasslands with abundant shrubs or young trees (24%) and forest land with an understory dominated either by grasses (19%) or by forest species (16%) where cattle herds graze freely. The increase in area of young secondary vegetation (5%) is to some extent an indicator for an increase in the area affected by slash-and-burn cultivation, which is mostly practiced on mountain slopes with shallow and stony soils. However, secondary vegetation can also result from landslides, forestry operations, and forest fires. A study of land cover and land use change in El Triunfo showed that around a third of deforestation in the period from 1975 to 2000 (3,682 ha) was due to landslides caused by hurricane Mitch in 1998 (CONANP-FMCN 2003). The increase in secondary vegetation also results from the abandonment of former cropping and grazing lands. We observed secondary vegetation on what were grasslands in

the Macuilapa river catchment in the northern part of La Sepultura. This is in line with Villafuerte and others (1997) who showed that, as a result of the opening of the Mexican market to imports of meat and dairy and the reduction of subsides to cattle ranches under the North American Free Trade Agreement, grazing areas have not only ceased to grow but even decreased in some areas. Timber production has been another important land use in the SMC. Before the PAs were created, forest operations took place with no governmental control. At elevations between 500 and 1500 m above sea level, timber was obtained from pine species, while at lower elevations various tropical species were harvested. These operations caused degradation of the forest because the traders used to buy the best trees and species, leaving in the field the individuals with undesirable traits. After the creation of the PAs, illegal logging decreased thanks to increased surveillance by government authorities and only persists in some areas, mainly on the Atlantic slope of La Frailescana. On the other hand, legal forestry operations based on management plans that allow the removal of up to 30% of mature trees and are elaborated and supervised by a forest engineer have been authorized in the buffer zone (Personal communication by La Sepultura Reserve Director). Despite these various deforestation processes, the three PAs studied are still largely forested (Fig. 4). In 2007, the mature and old-growth forests covered around three quarters of the total reserve area (Table 5). In recent years, the deforestation rates have slowed down to 0.1% per year between 2003 and 2007 (Table 5). Causes of Deforestation We found deforestation, attributable to the activities of local inhabitants, in all 12 zones that the environmental authorities considered as hotspots of deforestation and forest fragmentation. The deforested areas were, however, smaller and more scattered than initially expected (Fig. 4c). In some areas, forest loss was the result of fires (Fig. 4a), the opening of a new motor way (Fig. 4b) and landslides provoked by hurricane Stan in 2005 (Fig. 4d), the latter two factors being outside the control of local people and reserve authorities. Cover change analysis alone does not fully show the impact of land use activities on natural vegetation. Selective timber and firewood extraction, as well as cattle grazing in the understory, may result in the degradation of forests, which is not easily mapped by remote sensing and is not accounted for in this study. We identified in six zones the agents and the immediate and underlying causes of deforestation (Table 6). Two were cases of pasture expansion by 5–10 ha into semideciduous tropical forest. In both cases, the agents were fairly



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Fig. 4 Forest area and deforestation (2003–2007) in the three largest protected areas of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico

Table 5 Forest loss from 2003 to 2007 in the protected areas of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico PA

2003 Forest (%)

2007 Forest (%)

Total change (%)

Annual rate of change (%)

La Sepultura





La Frailescana





El Triunfo





Total area





wealthy landowners who had recently bought a forested piece of land adjacent to their holdings and wished to increase their grazing area. One of these transactions took place in an ejido. The sale of ejido land was forbidden until


1992 but it is now permitted following the reform of the Article 27 of the Constitution and the Agrarian Code. In two other cases, deforestation was directly linked to conflict between neighboring communities, or communities and private owners, who claimed the same piece of land. At the root of these conflicts is the inefficient action of agrarian agencies and courts to define clear property limits and resolve disputes. The disputed land suffered deforestation because one of the claimants cleared the forest as a way of asserting his rights over the land. In La Frailescana we found deforestation in a community that was formed after the Zapatista rebellion, where the new settlers cleared land for the establishment of maize fields or coffee plantations. The environmental authorities have considered the new properties among the main places where deforestation

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Table 6 Types of deforestation and their causes in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico Immediate cause

Underlying cause

Type of deforestation

Private property or ejido lands were bought (2 cases in La Sepultura)

Growing economic inequality. Changes to Agrarian Code and Article 27 of the Constitution

Clear-cutting of semi-deciduous tropical forest for grazing land

Arrival of new settlers (1 case in La Frailescana)

Occupation of land due to the political conflict in Chiapas

Shifting cultivation and coffee plantations encroaching into forest land

Two owners claimed the same piece of land due to ill defined boundaries (2 cases in El Triunfo)

Incomplete action of agrarian institutions and agrarian courts

Encroachment of coffee plantations on pine forest

Growing number of land users (1 case in El Triunfo)

Intermarriage. Population growth

Encroachment of coffee plantations on cloud forest

and forest degradation are occurring (INE 1999b). It is worth noting that 81% of the deforestation that has occurred in El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve between 1975 and 2000 took place after 1992 (CONANP–FMCN 2003), a period that mostly coincides with the land occupation by immigrants. The last case of deforestation we identified was land clearing for coffee plantations directly related to population growth of several small communities whose members have as their main livelihoods coffee growing and off-farm employment. The small communities have been long established, and the natural population growth and intermarriage have forced some young families to clear-cut small plots of land to plant coffee. As can be seen, the cases of deforestation are mostly related to economic changes, political conflicts, agrarian disputes or population growth. In the future, these drivers could produce more cases of deforestation. Collier (1994) argues that the 1992 reforms to Article 27 of the Constitution will increase the economic inequalities that existed previously within communities and will favor land concentration. Another factor that could trigger deforestation in the future is the dissatisfaction that prevailed in some communities due to the restrictions on land use imposed by the PA decrees. Some interviewees complained that the land they had was not enough to satisfy their needs, and they could not expand their agricultural plots or move to another piece of land to allow their current plots to fallow. If the farmers cannot produce enough maize for their consumption, they have to buy this staple food at a high price. In 2009, the price of maize was around 40% higher in the rural zones than in the cities. In two communities, interviewed farmers also pointed out that they did not receive a fair compensation for their forest protection services fighting forest fires or watching over the presence of intruders in the forest. They mentioned they would clear the forest in the future if they did not receive a just compensation for their losses and services.

Encroachment of shifting cultivation on cloud forest

Another future threat to the forest is related to climate change over the next few decades. A hotter climate with more irregular rainfall will be less favorable to the production of quality coffee and lower profitability may compel farmers to abandon shade coffee and expand other land uses of less biodiversity value, probably at the expense of forest (Schroth and others 2009). Options to Stop Deforestation and Promote Livelihood Development Considering these looming threats to biodiversity in the SMC, measures need to be taken to ensure ecosystem conservation and communities’ wellbeing. We will now briefly discuss one option for this: payments for environmental services (PES). Payments for Environmental Services and Carbon Trading From 2004 to 2008, 52,747 ha were contracted to receive funds from the Payments for Hydrological Environmental Services Program (PSAH, for its Spanish acronym) in or around La Sepultura and El Triunfo Biosphere Reserves. The program covered almost one fifth (18%) of the forests in the buffer areas of these reserves. The spatial distribution of PSAH in SMC is closely related to the location of the three biosphere reserves in SMC (Fig. 5), which confirms the use of the program to reinforce conservation in mountainous PAs. However, in line with suggestions that this program contributes little to reducing deforestation since most of the contracted areas have low deforestation risk (Kaimowitz 2008), the majority of the contracted areas in the SMC are located in the highest, steepest and remotest parts of the watersheds. In these parts the communities tend to keep the forests as sources of firewood, timber and other products (Fig. 6). There may, however, be indirect effects of the PSAH program on reducing deforestation outside the contracted areas. Reserve authorities have told communities that in



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Fig. 5 Areas that received payments for hydrological environmental services (PSAH) between 2004 and 2008 in Chiapas, including the biosphere reserves in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, Mexico. Sources:

Payments for environmental services areas from the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR). Boundaries of protected areas from National Council of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP)

return for receiving PSAH they should stop deforestation in their entire territories, not just in the contracted areas. Some communities that received PSAH mentioned that their members had stopped deforesting because they felt that they were more closely supervised by government officers. One of the communities had even reported land clearing by one of its members to the environmental authorities, fearing that otherwise their application for PSAH would be rejected. To improve its efficiency, the PSAH program must overcome several problems. One is to increase its coverage, which was mostly concentrated in watersheds with a long history of community work by the reserve authorities. However, a rapid increase in coverage seems remote. In 2009, out of a total of 327 PSAH applications submitted in the state of Chiapas, only 36 (11%) were approved, while around 40% were rejected for lack of funding. Beside the small number of approved proposals, the low per-ha payments (around USD $138/family/year in one community)

have raised complaints in the communities, although a recent survey in a community in La Sepultura found that especially the poorest families considered the received amount (around 10% of their total annual income) relevant for mitigating their poverty (Rico and others 2011). In one community, some members considered the payments unfairly distributed because those who had much forested land received the same amount as those who owned little. In another community that consists of 400 households living in 10 hamlets, the 40 members of the hamlet closest to the conserved forest complained that the payments were divided among the entire community and considered this situation unfair given that they are charged with the cost of not expanding their crops and have received only a small fraction of the benefits. These situations can act as a disincentive to the participation of strategic or big land holders and shows the trade-offs between efficiency and equitability in the scheme. If the efficiency is privileged, the poorest could be excluded. Until now, communities


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Fig. 6 Areas where payments for hydrological services (PSAH) and for biodiversity and carbon capture (PSA-CABSA) have been received in La Sepultura Biosphere Reserve, Chiapas, Mexico. Sources: Map of watersheds produced by the National Institute of

Research in Agriculture, Livestock Management and Forestry (INIFAP). Biosphere reserve boundaries from the National Council of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP). Payments for environmental services areas from the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR)

decide how to distribute the payments among their members. Considering the low amount of the payments, not only in absolute terms, but also in comparison to rents of competing agricultural land uses, it should not surprise that communities contracted forest in marginal lands, with low risk of deforestation. Following Wunder (2007), it would be recommendable to evaluate the real conservation benefits of the program. It is necessary to identify in what communities the scheme is favoring the local efforts towards conservation in an equitable way, where it has no impact, and where it may even create perverse incentives. According to the operational rules for 2011, the program will differentiate by deforestation risk, which can be interpreted as an attempt to increase additionality by avoiding areas with low deforestation risk. Another problem is the only 5-year duration of the PSAH contracts. The government expects that, after

5 years, participating communities will be able to access markets for ecosystem services on their own. This assumption is unrealistic given the limited training and capacity building on PSAH received by communities, where key concepts and communities’ obligations and responsibilities are often misunderstood. Under these circumstances, the long-term benefits of the program in its current form are questionable. Beside the government-sponsored PES programs, there have been NGO led initiatives to stimulate the provision of environmental services in the SMC. The most advanced of these is the Scolel Te’ project (also called Fondo Bioclimatico project), implemented by the cooperative Ambio, scientists from El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), and the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management (ECCM), which provides land users with access to voluntary carbon markets (Ambio 2009, Nelson and de Jong 2003). Ambio uses the Plan Vivo system (Plan Vivo 2009)



that helps farmers to design their own management plans for carbon sequestration and storage through forestry, forest restoration and agroforestry activities. In 2008, the Scolel Te’ project began to work with 8 communities in the SMC by integrating the biodiversity friendly production of coffee under shade and carbon credit trading through reforestation of farm land. In 2009, Ambio scaled up the model to 13 more communities and 120 producers had committed to sequestering at least 25,000 t of CO2. Further expansion of the program is intended. This experience has produced some valuable lessons about local projects aiming to sell environmental services into international markets (Corbera 2005; Nelson and de Jong 2003). To gain trust and legitimacy among small-holding farmers, the project successfully used participatory methods and the support of local organizations. Productive systems were designed by farmers and guided by their needs. Payments in advance and transparency in accounting also helped. Trust and legitimacy, according to Brechin and others (2002), are key elements to produce sustainable participation of communities. On the negative side, the concentration of decisionmaking in the international carbon broker, a scientist from the Edinburgh Center for Carbon Management (Nelson and de Jong 2003), in order to manage the project efficiently— perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the evolution from a community development project to a carbon trading scheme—eroded some of this trust with the communities (Corbera 2005). Another problem was that carbon payments did not provide enough overhead financing to support technical advice and environmental education to farmers. Related to this, the cooperative still faces the challenge of garnering a higher price per credit by targeting buyers who value the combination of climate change mitigation, poverty alleviation, and biodiversity conservation that is inherent in the program (Schroth and others 2011). The two PES schemes analyzed have strengthened the conservation efforts, but their impact is limited. Social development and livelihood improvement are not targeted directly by these programs. These constraints should be taken into account and overcome by new programs aiming to ensure the provision of environmental services in Chiapas. One of these is the result of the establishment of the first carbon compliance market in the U.S. adopted by the California Air Resources Board on December 2010. Emitters such as power plants, refineries and other industries will be able to offset a limited amount of carbon emissions through REDD projects between 2012 and 2020. For the first compliance period (2012–2014), California has decided to partner with the states of Chiapas, Mexico and Acre, Brazil (California Environmental Protection Agency 2010). This initiative, besides supporting carbon sequestration and storage, could represent a significant source of funding for projects aiming to build the capacities of local communities


Environmental Management (2012) 49:649–662

to manage their land and carry out productive activities in a sustainable manner, elements missing at present. The success of this proposal will require a thorough consultation and information process within local communities. According to Richards and Jenkins (2007), PES should form part of a package of instruments to ensure ecosystems conservation and social development. In the next two sections, we will discuss other necessary components of this package. Technological Change on Farms and Premium Markets Coffee Plantations In the SMC, coffee production under natural tree shade is considered one of the best options not only to help maintain associated biodiversity (Perfecto and others 2007), but to sequester carbon and conserve soil (Soto-Pinto and others 2010). The conversion of conventional coffee plantations into organic, fair trade or conservation coffee, promoted by non-profit organizations and the government, has relied on practices such as shade management, maintenance of native tree diversity, and epiphyte and dead tree retention. Parallel to this were efforts to organize coffee farmers in trade and support webs and to link them to premium markets. These programs have had much visibility and deserve continued support. Shifting Cultivation and Fallow Agricultural Systems Reserve authorities have aimed at replacing these systems with more permanent forms of agriculture called ‘‘organic’’ or ‘‘agroecological’’ in official publications. However, these alternative systems are poorly defined and, by reducing the reliance on fallow rotations, may increase farmers’ dependence on expensive chemical inputs, as observed elsewhere in Chiapas (Collier and others 1994). Rather than trying to replace shifting cultivation, its greater regulation in terms of location and size of clearings as well as promoting the use of limited amounts of fertilizer might be preferable. Cattle Ranching Recent research on cattle ranching in different livestock regions of Chiapas suggests ways to make livestock systems more sustainable (Jime´nez-Ferrer and others 2007; Nahed and others 2008). These include rotational grazing and increased use of forage legumes as live fences, scattered trees or protein banks, and controlling the reproduction of cattle and the spread of diseases. Unfortunately, markets for organic cattle products are incipient in Chiapas with the around 30% higher price of these products acting as a barrier to consumer acceptance. Community Work and Policy Changes We perceived during field surveys that many communities feel either ignored or not sufficiently compensated for their

Environmental Management (2012) 49:649–662

conservation efforts, although most of them are willing to cooperate with the PA authorities. Communities and reserve authorities showed mutual distrust. Following Brechin and others (2002), we think that the efforts taken until now by the government and NGOs to avoid the encroaching of agriculture on forests are partial and have not attended many of the communities’ needs. A more integral approach, based on negotiations among communities, reserve authorities and other stakeholders is needed. In these negotiations, ecosystem protection objectives and human development needs would be equally considered, with the goal of producing co-management agreements that imply shared responsibility and commitment, including in the form of loans and subsidies. This will increase the legitimacy of conservation efforts since communities will feel included in these efforts. On the other hand, better coordination between different government agencies in the region is needed to avoid situations where policies of agricultural development and expansion contradict conservation policies. Finally, greater attention should be paid to solving agrarian disputes and to mitigating the effects of land concentration.

Conclusions The PAs of the SMC still face conflicts between conservation objectives and the livelihoods of their rural inhabitants. Deforestation is a visible expression of this conflict, although it has tended to decrease in recent years. However, several underlying causes of forest loss such as growing economic inequality, population growth, and political conflicts are still present in some zones and could drive a resurgence of deforestation rates in the future unless the underlying problems are recognized and addressed. The government-run PES program plays a role in mitigating poverty in the SMC but is not sufficient on its own to completely halt deforestation, nor is it presently well implemented. Locally developed initiatives like Scolel Te’ are a potentially important complement. However, these initiatives need to be accompanied by efforts towards technological change that develops more sustainable agricultural systems. Furthermore, a greater focus on community work to fully involve communities in the conservation and management of the PAs is needed. To achieve more community engagement, reserve authorities might negotiate with communities the areas subject to protection and different land uses, offering additional incentives such as better community infrastructure. In exchange, communities would commit to cooperating in conservation efforts, respecting agreements and watching over the presence of intruders and forest fires. These actions could start in pilot communities and extend gradually to other zones with the help of NGOs


and other actors such as technicians and professionals from universities and research centers. A challenge is to combine these different mechanisms to achieve an integrated system for landscape conservation that conciliates biodiversity conservation and rural people’s livelihoods. Acknowledgments We thank Conservation International, Starbucks and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur for funding the research for this paper. The Protected Natural Areas National Commission (CONANP) members Juan Carlos Castro, Jeanette Gonza´lez, Victor Negrete, Alexer Va´zquez, Juventino Galda´mez, and Daniel Go´mez provided invaluable information. The Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrı´colas y Pecuarias (INIFAP) kindly shared the watershed map and the NGO BIOCORES shared valuable field information. Mars Inc. provided funding for color reproduction of figures in this paper.

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Resolving the Conflict Between Ecosystem Protection and Land Use

Environmental Management (2012) 49:649–662 DOI 10.1007/s00267-011-9799-9 Resolving the Conflict Between Ecosystem Protection and Land Use in Protecte...

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