Payments for the protection of environmental services
Much of the Nudo del Azuay is technically protected within southern Sangay National Park. However, as in many protected areas in the tropics, the majority of these ostensibly public lands are actually private property with titles predating the park's establishment. In contrast with other national parks, a 1992 declaration that doubled the total area of the original park also explicitly recognized the possession rights of property owners with titles predating park expansion. There has been little investment to ensure effective management and conservation since the 1992 expansion, although indigenous communities and private landowners possess legal rights to an estimated 47% of land within the Nudo del Azuay. This intersection of private and public lands and interests provides an ideal laboratory for the implementation of a payment for the protection of environmental services (PPES) program.
Since 2006, FCT has worked on the design and implementation of a PPES program in the Nudo del Azuay. This work has included analyses of land tenure in southern Sangay National Park, a socioeconomic study to assess the opportunity cost of conservation, studies identifying threats to the long-term conservation of the region and setting conservation priorities, and finally the design of a monitoring system.
Economic tools for conservation, such as PPES programs, hold great promise by ensuring directly measurable conservation outcomes. Previous tools intended to redirect destructive activities toward ecologically benign ones—so-called "conservation by distraction" strategies—frequently failed to achieve measurable outcomes. In contrast, PPES programs are a direct response to typical market forces that value destruction over conservation, instead considering the full plurality of environmental services that natural ecosystems provide. Although the monetary incentives provided by PPES programs will positively alter immediate land management decisions, development of a local conservation ethic must accompany any PPES initiative. To that end, FCT has implemented programs in education, capacity-building, and community participation in monitoring.
Our intention is to generate both synergies and efficiencies by incorporating three elements into our PPES work: (i) environmental education; (ii) local participation in biological, hydrological, and archaeological research and monitoring; and (iii) investment in agricultural production.
(i) Environmental education may raise residents' willingness to accept payments and increase levels of participation. FCT hopes that for the coming generation in particular, environmental education will serve to replace current conservation proponents from outside the community with new ones from within.
(ii) Monitoring conservation impacts will produce direct benefits to community members who provide services to researchers and monitoring teams. More importantly, as area residents participate in conservation as para-biologists, para-hydrologists and para-archaeologists, we expect to see a transition from natural habitats and archaeological landscapes being perceived as 'other' to being perceived as part of 'us'. Conservation agreements are by nature voluntary, and we anticipate greater interest from rural residents who value their natural habitats and cultural landscapes.
(iii) Investments in agricultural production will focus on improving pasture, since agriculture is currently the major generator of income for residents. Linked explicitly with binding conservation agreements, improvements in pasture productivity reduce the demand for forest and páramo soils, occupy the labor force in existing agricultural areas, and raise family incomes. Silvopastoral systems could also generate income from carbon capture.
In May 2009, FCT facilitated the signing of a novel conservation agreement between a downstream hydroelectric company, CELEC-Hidropaute E.P., and the upstream indigenous community of Colepato. The in-kind conservation agreement established that CELEC-Hidropaute would construct a state-of-the-art cheese factory in Colepato, while the community committed to conserve 1,935 hectares of community-owned montane forest for five years.
This agreement is a binding transaction that holds the community and the company accountable for what they receive. Both parties agreed to strict rules: community members promised not to harvest timber from their forest, hunt, or remove orchids or other plants for commercial sale, in essence agreeing to protect their forest's hydrological resources and biodiversity. In exchange, CELEC-Hidropaute pledged to contract and construct the community's cheese factory in a timely manner, as well as providing training in cheese production, improved milking practices, and pasture management. The contract also stipulates that failure on the part of either party to comply with their established responsibilities will invoke a system of warnings and fines, ensuring that the benefits accrued by both the community and the company are contingent on honoring their agreement.
Why might CELEC-Hidropaute have an interest in guaranteeing the protection of the forests of Colepato? CELEC-Hidropaute's Paute-Molino complex, the largest hydroelectric plant in Ecuador, is downstream of these forests. Heavy sedimentation from upstream watersheds has negatively affected the plant's useful life and required a program of extensive dredging since the mid-1980s. While the recently completed multi-million dollar Mazar Project will serve to capture much upstream sedimentation, CELEC-Hidropaute is still attempting the solve the problem of sedimentation occurring downstream of the Mazar watershed, in the area of Colepato. Long-term research is underway to confirm the effects of upstream conservation of native forest and páramo on downstream sedimentation. For now, CELEC-Hidropaute is betting that conservation of Colepato's forests will be both economically and socially beneficial.
FCT is the agreement's primary architect and led negotiations between the 32 families of Colepato and CELEC-Hidropaute's environmental engineers and general management. Although not a signatory to the agreement, FCT continues to participate as a third-party observer to ensure that the process is transparent and fair to both parties.
In August 2009, FCT signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of the Environment's Socio Bosque Conservation Incentive Program to assist Nudo del Azuay landholders in applying to the program. The national-scale PPES program offers a monetary incentive to interested landholders who agree to conserve their forests or páramos for a period of twenty years. The incentive is based on the number of hectares conserved.
FCT aids Nudo del Azuay landowners with their applications to the Socio Bosque Program by providing information in community meetings, at weekly markets, and via personal visits to the houses of all park residents. We also facilitate program registration and aid landowners in delineating and measuring the land they wish to conserve.
The Socio Bosque Program initially focused on the protection of lowland forests, but quickly expanded to include páramos and montane forests. Socio Bosque also revised its statutes in March 2010 to allow landholders with titles inside existing protected areas (such as Sangay National Park) to enter the program, thereby recognizing the place of people and communities within Ecuadorian protected areas as conservation partners and stewards.
In spite of high initial interest, most area landowners have not yet been able to enter the Socio Bosque program due to various difficulties related to land tenure and titling. Socio Bosque has rejected applications from the majority of titled Nudo del Azuay landowners due to inconsistencies in the procedure of granting land titles in the province of Cañar. We hope that Socio Bosque will respond to this problem quickly, given the critical importance of conserving Ecuador's most economically important watershed.