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1 Theoretical Framework: Sustainability Science, PES, and Agroforestry

1 Theoretical Framework: Sustainability Science, PES, and Agroforestry

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D. Allasiw et al.

2.1.2 Payment for Ecosystem Services

Wunder (2005) defines PES as a voluntary transaction where a well-defined environmental service (or land use to secure the service) is being “bought” by a service

buyer (minimum of one) from a service provider (minimum of one) if and only if

the provider secures provision (conditionality). This definition underpins the theory that PES is an effective way to induce conservation by lessening the conflict

between conservation and local welfare in compensating those who bear its cost

(Pfaff et al. 2008).

However, transaction costs remain a major bottleneck for PES implementation (Wunder 2008a, b). Transaction costs can be incurred from information dissemination, contract negotiation, assessment of baseline environmental service,

etc. Additional costs from monitoring, enforcement, as well as administration, are

further accrued during the operational phase. In the Costa Rican PES, transaction

costs are mostly borne by the national government, who acts as buyer on behalf of

environmental service users.

Nonetheless, PES participants still have to bear some of the start-up costs,

which sometimes hinder participation. One of the prerequisites of PES is conditionality; as proof of ownership and a minimum land area is required from PES

participants. However, these qualifications have inadvertently limited the accessibility of PES to smallholders who cannot meet the minimum area requirement or

possess legal proof of land ownership. PES for agroforestry was later introduced,

with a payment scheme based on number of trees instead of land area. Special

consideration for informal land ownership was also implemented alongside this

reform. In principle, PES for agroforestry addresses the shortcomings of earlier

PES modalities by introducing reforms in the qualification requirements to make it

more accessible to smallholders.

2.1.3 Agroforestry

Agricultural lands are increasingly recognized as a valuable source of various

environmental services (Clay 2004). Although in the past agriculture was largely

viewed as harmful to biodiversity and soil conservation, more recent studies suggest that with the adoption of appropriate land use systems such as agroforestry

the provision of multiple environmental services could be enhanced on agricultural

lands (Boody et al. 2005; Swinton et al. 2006). Agroforestry systems, defined as

the integration of trees, crops and animals, are sometimes viewed as a multi-functional working landscape that provide ecosystem services, environmental benefits

and economic commodities (Jose 2009).

Agroforestry has had its share of sceptics in the past, though scientific data

to substantiate its potential to generate various ecosystem services such as water

quality improvement, biodiversity and soil fertility enhancement (amongst others, see Garrity 2004; Nair and Graetz 2004; Nair et al. 2009) have been steadily

increasing. With growing environmental consciousness, agroforestry has gained

Field Survey Key Informant Interviews in Sustainability Science …


increased attention as a potential sustainable alternative to traditional farming. The

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) also emphasized the multi-functional

role that agro-ecosystems can play in the provision of ecosystem services.

2.2 Pre-field Preparation

Preparation for the fieldwork was undertaken over the course of eleven months by

the project members, composed of four doctoral and one master student who were

supervised by five professors from various fields of expertise that included urban

planning, landscape planning, urban engineering and public policy. Preparatory

activities included a monthly progress evaluation sessions and Skype meetings

with the local counterparts. The unit benefited much from collaboration with

local partners, who provided assistance and access to various organizations and

key informants, without which holding the unit would have been otherwise nearly


From the literature review to the field data collection, the study was grounded

on the problem-based and solution-oriented framework advocated by sustainability

science. In identifying the research problem, the initial literature review focused

on the general critiques of PES implementation in Costa Rica. The findings of this

review were then shared with local counterparts for feedback and to seek assistance in identifying the appropriate study site for an in-depth investigation.

This iterative process of formulating the research questions and objectives of

the study was adopted to aptly reconcile the actual field situation with the gaps

identified from literature. It was a time consuming process, but highly necessary

for identifying the most relevant problem that could be addressed by the study

given the limited time for the field work. The empirical knowledge gained by the

authors during the actual field survey dynamically influenced the issues that the

participants looked at, thus some of the issues identified during the initial literature

review were excluded in the end.

The methodological approach, based on an iterative process of formulating the

research questions and objectives of the study, was undertaken to ensure a match

between knowledge gaps from literature with locally relevant issues. The adoption

of this methodology was grounded in two reasons. First, although the Costa Rican

PES is generally well studied, providing a rich resource for literature review, most

studies were generated from data gathered between 1999 and 2005, generating a

knowledge vacuum between the findings from the literature review and the current

situation in Costa Rica. The second reason was the difficulty in establishing a new

research project in an unfamiliar location. Since this was the first GFE Costa Rica

unit to be implemented, narrowing down the topic and identifying the appropriate

study site proved to be difficult.

The preliminary literature review revealed that the main criticisms on the Costa

Rican PES has been the lack of additionality, or simply the argument that forest

conservation in the country would have happened anyway without PES payments.


D. Allasiw et al.

The initial research problem was therefore centered on how this lack of additionality could be addressed. The proposal was presented at the GPSS-GLI International

Symposium in January 19, 2015, where the team received comments from the

audience and the former Minister for the Environment and Energy of Costa Rica

(1994–1998 and 2011–2014), the main proponent of PES during his first term.

On a follow-up interview on January 20, 2015, the former minister acknowledged some of the criticisms of PES, but at the same time disclosed that Costa

Rican policy makers and PES implementers have already been devising ways

to address them. As a result, a significant modification introduced recently was

the implementation of PES for agroforestry systems. This approach potentially

increases the additionality of PES, since it is implemented in agricultural lands,

which presumably have a higher tendency for deforestation.

Building on this new finding, a targeted literature reviews on PES for agroforestry was conducted to develop the research questions for the field level survey.

Since the policy goal for the program is to increase biodiversity and enable small

holders to have access to PES, the survey questions focused on examining whether

these goals have been achieved, as well as to identify difficulties faced by facilitators and implementers. The Research structure is summarized in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1  Research structure

Field Survey Key Informant Interviews in Sustainability Science …


2.3 Fieldwork

Fieldwork was conducted from March 1 to 11, 2015 in San Jose City and

Guanacaste Province (Fig. 2). San Jose is the capital city of Costa Rica and is the

location of most offices visited to conduct stakeholder interviews. On the other

hand, Guanacaste region was chosen as a study-site for field observations due

to the high number of agroforestry projects in the region and the access to key

informants from the Office of Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG)—National

System of Conservation Areas (SINAC). ACG is one of the eleven conservation

areas that make up SINAC and is the only place in the world that contains four of

the five major tropical systems (ACG-SINAC 2015).

Guanacaste is considered to be Costa Rica’s most outstanding story of forest restoration, which provides a unique opportunity to study how and why the

regrowth of tropical dry forest occurs (Calvo-Alvarado et al. 2009). In the past,

Guanacaste’s forest cover was almost eliminated, but is now currently being successfully restored. However, future pressures on Guanacaste’s forest are being

anticipated due to increased investment on tourism infrastructure and real estate

development. Also regional expansion and intensification of cattle ranching, driven

by rising beef prices in the international market, have significantly increased economic incentives to deforest. These threats highlight the need to integrate forest

protection and incentives for sustainable agriculture through agroforestry for the

sustainable development of the region.

The collection of field data was conducted primarily by qualitative methods

that consisted of key informant interviews (formal and informal) and field observations. The interviewees and the institutions they represent were selected for the

roles and functions they play in the implementation of PES (Table 1).

Fig. 2  Location of Costa Rica and GIS tracking of field survey route. Source Google earth

administrative boundary (2015)

D. Allasiw et al.


Table 1  List of stakeholders and organizational role in the implementation of PES for



National Forest Financing


1. National office

2. Regional office

Guanacaste Conservation

Area (ACG)—National

System of Conservation

Areas (SINAC)

Tropical Agricultural

Research and Higher

Education Center

International Union for

Conservation of Nature

National Biodiversity


Coffee farmers’ cooperative






• National—secures and

administers PES funds

• Regional—monitor and

endorses PES contract

• Legally responsible for

control, monitoring and

promotion of PES program





• Provide technical assistance







• Provide technical assistance

• Assist in securing funds

• Provide technical assistance

and expert advice on

biodiversity issues

• Agroforestry practitioners

3 Brief History on the Evolution of Costa Rican PES

To protect its remaining forested areas Costa Rica implemented a series of policies

and legal actions for forest conservation and management. In 1969, the First Forest

Law in the country regulated forest use on public land and established a system of

national parks (Calvo-Alvarado et al. 2009). This extensive network of protected

areas was intended to limit agricultural expansion into the forests (Fagan et al. 2013).

Also, there had been attempts to engage private landholders in forest recovery

by providing incentives for reforestation and later for natural forests that included

income tax reductions, subsidized credits, and transferable bonds (Brockett

and Gottfried 2002). The reforestation subsidies were successful in reforesting 51,000 ha up to 1993, but were critiqued for benefitting mostly large holders,

when it is the small holders who needed the subsidy for timber (Castro-Salazar

and Arias-Murillo 1998).

In 1995, the reforestation incentives were eliminated as a result of the Structural

Adjustment Program (SAPs) of the World Bank, except for one program targeting small holders. This led the forestry department to lobby for the revision of

the Forestry Law in search of other funding sources, which also coincided with

the post-Rio environmental movement. With strong support from the Ministry of

Environment (MINAE) and the president of Costa Rica a Revised Forestry Law

was passed, which launched the PES program in 1996 (Porras and Neves 2006).

The legal framework within which Cost Rica established its PES program

rests on three laws (Sánchez-Azofeifa et al. 2007). First is the Environment Law

7554 of 1995 that mandates a “balanced and ecologically driven environment”

Field Survey Key Informant Interviews in Sustainability Science …


for all. Second is the 1996 Revised Forestry Law 7575 prohibiting land cover

change in forests, mandating a “rational use” of all natural resources. Finally, the

Biodiversity Law, enacted in 1998, promotes the conservation and “rational use”

of biodiversity resources. The passage of these laws reflects the change in the

mindset of Costa Rican policy makers, resulting from increased recognition of the

need to put a stop to the environmental degradation that threatens the sustainable

supply of services provided by forests.

The Forestry Law 7575 also formalized the National Forest Financing Fund

(FONAFIFO), an institution entrusted with managing and acquiring funds for

PES. The funds administered by FONAFIFO come from various sources, both

domestic and foreign. Private funds at the beginning of the program were mostly

sourced from sales of carbon bonds to national and international organizations e.g.

carbon certificates sold to Norway in 1997. Domestic funding comes mainly from

the one third of the sales tax on fossil fuel, as mandated by the same forestry law.

To expand FONAFIFO’s budget, a project called Ecomarkets I (amounting

to US$ 49 million, 65 % of which was loaned from the World Bank) was used

to fund 50 % of PES contracts from 1996 to 2005 (Sills et al. 2005). This was

complemented by donations from local hydropower companies and the German

Development Bank. During the second phase of the project (Ecomarkets II), which

took place from 2007 to 2011, the Costa Rican government bore 52 % of the total

funding, a significantly larger portion than in Ecomarkets I.

The nature of the Costa Rican PES funding, which in its early stages comes

mostly from grants and donations, has resulted in some criticism in the past. Some

articles referred to it as a subsidy program (Bennett 2010) and PES-like scheme

(Wunder 2008a, b) due to the reason that the national government acts as buyer

in behalf of environmental users. However, the recent introduction of private purchasing agreements for watershed/forest protection and carbon footprint offsetting

so that FONAFIFO can receive funding from institutions and companies benefitting from PES has improved the image of the Costa Rican PES. A national bill in

2006, which sets a water tariff on those who use water as a “raw material” in their

production activities to fund watershed protection projects (Murillo et al. 2012),

reinforces the concept of PES in the country as a mechanism for internalizing negative environmental externalities by compensating those who ensure the provision

of environmental services.

When an individual is accepted for participation in the PES program, a contract

is established between the landholder and FONAFIFO. In return, the landholders

cede their carbon and other environmental rights to FONAFIFO for the length of

the contract, but are afterwards free to renegotiate the prices, or sell the rights to

other parties (Karousakis 2007). The first payment is granted during the signing of

contract, though succeeding payments are disbursed on an annual basis only after

verification that they are following their contracts (Pagiola 2006). Monitoring is

essential to ensure that the program attains its intended effect and that PES payments are indeed promoting desirable land use changes.

The Costa Rican PES compensates landholders who maintain either planted

or protected forests in their land in order to ensure the continuous provision of


D. Allasiw et al.

ecosystem services. It is a market-oriented approach that aims to compensate for

the positive externalities (environmental services) provided by forests. PES is in

principle an effective way to induce conservation while compensating those who

incur its costs (Pfaff et al. 2008). It is hoped that this additional income in the form

of PES payments will transform the long-standing debate as to whether sustainable

forestry can be economically competitive with alternatives such as conversion to

pasture or plantations (Kishor and Constantino 1993). The argument is that if forest

owners get compensated, the additional income might be enough to make private

forest conservation economically viable and thus attractive to local landowners.

For years, the Costa Rican PES has been regarded as one of, if not the most

successful conservation story, which attracted the attention of many scholars, who

have revealed contrasting views and opinions on its perceived impact. Besides

impact evaluation, the research interest on the potential linkages between PES

and poverty has also grown. In recent years, policy makers and researchers have

started discussions on how PES programs can be designed to maximize poverty

reduction. Of particular interest is the identification of trade-offs between efficiently generating environmental services and reducing poverty (Pagiola et al.

2005). While PES programs are not specifically designed to be a poverty reduction program, they have the opportunity to do so given the high spatial correlation

between economically disadvantaged areas and areas that supply environmental

services (Wunder 2008a, b; Pagiola et al. 2005).

To address criticisms that have been discussed earlier, some modifications on

the design of PES were introduced over the course of its implementation, which

includes the addition of agroforestry systems and “assisted” natural regeneration

to the existing land use modalities. See also Table 2 for a complete list of PES

modalities. At the beginning, the program promoted three modalities: forest protection, reforestation, and sustainable forest management. Forest protection

requires forest owners to protect existing primary or secondary forests for 5 years.

Reforestation contracts entail the planting of trees on agricultural or abandoned

land, which has to be maintained for 15 years. Sustainable forest management

compensated landowners with approved a “sustainable logging plan”. This program aims to conduct low-intensity logging while keeping forest service’s intact.

4 Payments for Agroforestry Systems: A Tool to Increase

Supply of Environmental Services from Agricultural


The payment for agroforestry contracts was introduced in 2003 to incentivize the

planting of trees on farmlands. Activities may include afforestation of pasturelands

or shade coffee and live hedges providing fodder or windbreaks (Porras and Neves

2006). It aims to boost biodiversity in agricultural lands as well as to increase the

reach of PES to farmers with smallholdings (FONAFIFO 2013).

Field Survey Key Informant Interviews in Sustainability Science …


Table 2  List of PES modalities by year of implementation from 1997 to 2015 (FONAFIFO


Integrating biodiversity goals with sustainable agriculture provides an opportunity to justify funding for biodiversity. Because there is no identifiable single

beneficiary of biodiversity, but rather the service is a public and universal good,

funds for biodiversity have historically come from one-time grants (Bennett and

Henninger 2009), making them difficult to sustain in the long-term.

4.1 Payment Scheme and Basic Requirement

Payment for agroforestry systems in an attempt to make it more accessible to

smallholders and is the only modality that is payable by the number of trees, significantly different to other PES modalities which are paid by hectare of land (see

also Table 3).

The basic contract for agroforestry pays for 350 trees up to a maximum of

3,500 trees per landowner, though indigenous people that share land ownership rights are allowed a maximum of 1,000 ha/year or 30,000 trees per community. Local non-governmental organizations that function as intermediaries

between smallholders and authorities are not subjected to an area limit. Besides

D. Allasiw et al.


Table 3  Amount of payment for new modalities. Based on data from FONAFIFO (2015)

PES Modality

Natural regeneration (1)

(In pastures and areas with

productive potential sites

abandoned for at least one


Natural regeneration (2)

(In grasslands and pastures

that had been deforested from

December 31, 1989)

Agroforestry systems

Agroforestry systems

(Strictly with native species)

Total amount in

US$/ha for the term

of contract


Area requirement

Minimum = 1 ha

Maximum = 300 ha




Period the

contract is

valid (years)



No requirement

No requirement


the adjustment of area requirement, a legal easement for the indigenous population

and women headed households who lack formal land titles but have secure tenure

was also implemented, in order to make PES more beneficial to the poor.

4.2 Criteria for Selection and Application Process

The criteria for evaluating PES applications for each modality are issued every

year through an executive decree by the Ministry of Environment and Energy

(MINAE), which stipulates terms of contract validity, amount of payment and disbursement scheme (see Fig. 3). For 2015, Decree No. 39083-MINAE (Payment

for Environmental Services) published in July 24, 2015 at La Gaceta No. 143 set

the priority for agroforestry systems as: (i) areas with land use capacity I, II, III,

IV, V, VI, as determined by the Methodology for the Determination of Capacity

use of Lands in Costa Rica (Executive Decree No. 23214—MAGMIRENEM,

published in June 6, 1994 at La Gaceta No. 107), (ii) areas for tree incorporation

under formal agreement with FONAFIFO and (iii) applications handled by organizations that have existing agreement with FONAFIFO.

According to the same decree, FONAFIFO reserves the right to allocate resources among the different modalities, provided it does not exceed the

approved budget from fuel tax and private resources e.g. hydroelectric companies.

FONAFIFO may also establish quotas for the number of hectares and trees with

organizations that have existing agreement with FONAFIFO. In cases where the

in-coming applications exceed the annual target, a first-come-first-served selection

process is employed, according to FONAFIFO (March 9, 2015).

To qualify as a PES participant, landowners must present a sustainable forestry plan that contains various information such as land tenure and access to the

Field Survey Key Informant Interviews in Sustainability Science …


Fig. 3  Application process of PES for agroforestry. Based on MINAE Decree No. 39083-2015

property, description of actual land use and carrying capacity, soil quality, climate

and drainage (Pagiola 2006). It also includes a plan on how to prevent forest fires,

illegal harvesting and the hunting of animals. This plan needs to be certified by a

licensed forest engineer employed by the landowner directly or through intermediary agencies. Once it is approved, landowners can begin adopting specified land

use and receive the first payment.

The FONAFIFO regional officer in Guanacaste explained that these licensed engineers often work under accredited NGO intermediaries by FONAFIFO, whose main

goal is to help landowners overcome the bureaucratic process of application. The

NGOs consolidate applications from smallholders to reduce transaction costs and

sometimes also represent large holders who want to avoid paperwork. In exchange,

these NGOs get to charge landowners around 12 to 18 % of the PES payments.

As a basis for payments the forest engineers, some of their other tasks include

assisting in pre-qualifying applicants for PES and collaborating with FONAFIFO

and the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) in providing technical

assistance and monitoring.

4.3 Monitoring and Compliance

According to the FONAFIFO regional officer (interviewed on March 7, 2015)

the monitoring of contracts is undertaken mainly by SINAC, including an NGO

intermediary and a forest engineer in charge of the project. Succeeding PES payments following the first release will only be given after a compliance certificate


D. Allasiw et al.

Fig. 4  Stages of implementation of PES for agroforestry. By authors based on interview data

is prepared by the forest engineer. With the aid of a state of the art database and

through the conduct of a regular audit, FONAFIFO is capable of tracking the compliance of participants as well as whether the certifications by forest engineers are

correct (Pagiola 2006). Non-compliance of participants will result in the forfeiture of

future payments and the responsibility to return previous payments. Forest engineers

on the other hand can also lose their license over a false certification of compliance.

The stages of implementation of PES for agroforestry are also summarized in Fig. 4.

5 Findings and Discussion on Emerging Issues

in Implementation

5.1 Challenges to Implementation: Focus

on Quantity Over Quality

The results of the study suggest that PES for agroforestry is currently focused on

increasing forest cover rather than ensuring the quality of ecosystem services generated. During the interview with ACG-SINAC (March 9, 2015), the informants

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