Payments for environmental services (PES) schemes are widely promoted to secure ecosystem services through incentives to the owners of land from which they are derived. Furthermore, they are increasingly proposed to foster conservation and poverty alleviation in the global South. In this article, we analyze the social relations that have shaped the design, implementation, and outcomes of a PES scheme in Pimampiro, Ecuador. While previous studies describe this case as successful, we show that the PES scheme reinforces existing social differences, erodes community organization, undermines traditional farming practices, and perpetuates inequalities in resource access in the “working” landscape inhabited by the upstream peasant community paid for watershed management. We argue that PES schemes are thus not neutral initiatives imposed upon blank canvases, but intersect with existing development trajectories and power relations. We conclude that analyses of PES need to look beyond conservation to critically examine local resource management and distribution.
- ecosystem services