Linking Ecosystem Services and territorial development through the agrarian system approach - A case study at the Nicaraguan agricultural frontier

Authors and Affiliations: 

Gert Van Hecken, Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB), University of Antwerp;
Pierre Merlet, Research and Development Institute Nitlapan-UCA, Nicaragua;
Mara Lindtner, Centre for Development Research (CDR), University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria;
Johan Bastiaensen, Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB), University of Antwerp

Corresponding author: 
Gert Van Hecken

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) have been hailed as a promising conservation tool. The growing amount of empirical evidence suggests, however, that the effects of payments on inducing durable behavioural changes can vary substantially, depending on the way they are integrated in territorial dynamics. Payments will inevitably interact with intrinsic motivations and existing institutions, ‘crowding-out’ or ‘crowding-in’ more environmentally beneficial behaviour. This article offers a conceptual-methodological tool to assess how new institutional frameworks, such as PES, interact with motivations for land use change at the individual and collective level. We show how individual motivation is socially instituted in collective pathways that generate particular opportunities and constraints, as well as guiding ideas and habits that ‘work’ within these pathways. Through an in-depth case study at the agricultural frontier in Nicaragua, we show how an ‘agrarian system’ approach offers a much finer understanding of the dynamic interactions on the ground, and allows us to better relate farmers’ individual motivations to collective development pathways in the territory. Our case study also demonstrates how a local PES intervention is unlikely to durably alter the production system logic of farmers, and stimulate long-term ‘pro-environmental’ behaviour, at least if not accompanied by other types of policies.


This presentation is based on an article published in the journal "Ecological Economics":
Van Hecken, G., P. Merlet, M. Lindtner and J. Bastiaensen (2017) Can financial incentives change farmers' motivations? An agrarian system approach to development pathways at the Nicaraguan agricultural frontier. Ecological Economics,

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