Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services: achieving its goals or not?

Researchers have analysed the impact of the national policy on Payment for Forest Environmental Services (PFES) in A Luoi District, Thua Thien Hue Province, Viet Nam
View of Ha Long Bay from mainland Vietnam. Photo by Terry Sunderland/CIFOR

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A team of researchers analysed the impact of the Payment for Forest Ecosystem Services or PFES national policy in a district in Viet Nam.

The PFES policy provides payments to various bodies, including local communities, for protecting forests.

The researchers — an independent and two from the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry — found that there were mixed impacts of PFES in A Luoi District in Thua Thien Hue Province.

While some of the surveyed households had improved their incomes since the introduction of the PFES scheme in 2008, many others had actually seen their incomes decrease.

“Our findings show that the impact of PFES on local communities and individuals is limited because most forests are managed by the State, leaving only 17.9% of PFES payments for smallholders; the rest goes to Government agencies and communes’ people’s committees,” said Pham Thu Thuy, lead author of the research results published in the scientific journal, Forest and Society, and a senior scientist who heads the Climate Change, Energy and Low-Carbon Development team at CIFOR-ICRAF.

Pham and team found that, on average, PFES payments contributed little to household incomes: only 2.64% of total income.

“The increased income might not mean people are better off, either,” said Pham. “Many of the households we surveyed said that they still couldn’t afford all their basic needs, like education and medical expenses. Whatsmore, the extra income comes with costs, like loss of access to forest resources because the scheme restricts their use of the forest. This suggests that the costs and benefits of implementing PFES haven’t yet been fully understood.”

The research team made a number of recommendations. First, PFES schemes should be integrated into a wider approach in which multiple policies and initiatives provide complementary support, such as diversifying local livelihoods, building technical capacity and improving access to markets.

Second, a ‘co-management approach’, or allocation of forestland to local communities, could empower ownership, strengthen tenure security and increase incomes, providing a stronger incentive for communities to engage in PFES.

Third, building capacity and promoting participatory decision-making are essential, with safeguards and incentives in place to ensure sustainable use of forest resources.

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