Pastoralism and PES schemes: Synergies and shortcomings

As we increasingly realize the essentiality of the myriad integral services provided by natural ecosystems, payments for ecosystem services (PES) are garnering attention as a valuable policy tool which promotes care for the natural environment, while nestling fittingly into the dominant decision-making framework classically governed by a single metric, economics.

Broadly speaking, PES schemes involve remuneration for activities that support, directly or indirectly, the provision of services based on the natural environment.1 In contrast to subsidies, PES schemes look for changes in the behaviour of service providers, and thus payments are conditional on the fulfilment of desired outcomes or expected results. The programs are typically funded by governments or NGOs, offering the suppliers (often farmers and landowners) monetary incentives to undertake certain activities which in turn support the provision of these services to society.

What do PES schemes have to do with pastoralism?

Under the context of increased landscape homogenization due to rural exodus and reduced agrarian activity, landscapes in the northern rim of the Mediterranean are becoming increasingly vulnerable to wildfires.1 Meanwhile, the diminishing biodiversity in these areas also seems to be linked to the abandonment processes.2 Farming activities may be key for the preservation and enhancement of biodiversity and for the provision of ES.1 The concept of high nature value (HNV) farmland relates high levels of biodiversity to the continuity of agricultural activity and specific farming systems.3

Pastoralism, specifically through extensive animal grazing, is a key activity in the maintenance of HNV sites across Europe, and more generally around the Mediterranean. Thereby, pastoralism is becoming increasingly recognized as a key activity for biodiversity enhancement, simultaneously producing high-quality food products and halting rural abandonment. Furthermore, effective prescribed grazing measures can combine sustainable consumption of resources with prevention and mitigation of wildfires via biomass reduction.1 Despite these crucial roles played by pastoralism, the continuity of pastoral activities is highly threatened by a number of factors, including decreasing management and traditional practices,2 rural abandonment,2 competition with other industries such as tourism,4 changing climate conditions,5 and inappropriate representation of pastoralism in public and administrative spheres.6

A successful PES scheme implicating pastoral actors in wildfire prevention activities is exemplified by the Andalusian network of grazed fuel breaks, RAPCA (Red de Áreas Pasto-cortafuegos de Andalucía) in southern Spain.1 The reasons behind the success of the RAPCA payments has been analysed in an article recently published in the journal Forests, which can be accessed here (full-text, open access). RAPCA works with 220 pastors and their flocks, functioning as a PES scheme for targeted grazing which reduces fuel build-up in over 6000 ha of public forests to meet fire protection requirements. Maximum payments are determined based on a fixed bonus for participating in the program and a variable fee per hectare based on the grazing difficulty. Payments are then modulated according to the level of compliance (100%, 75%, or 50%, with lower compliance not meriting remuneration) with the consumption targets of 90% and 75% of annual herbaceous and shrub growth, respectively. Monitoring is a fundamental pillar of the program, exemplifying the typical condition of PES schemes wherein payments are conditional on the fulfilment of desired outcomes. To this end, RAPCA employees hired by the Andalusian Public Agency of Environment and Water (AMAYA) stay in contact with the shepherds throughout the year, periodically monitoring progress and evaluating the final compliance. The analysis suggests that the payments under RAPCA have contributed positively to fire prevention, saving costs relative to mechanical clearance of fuel breaks and improving communication and the accuracy of information shared. The program has resulted in some beneficial side effects as well, including enhanced recognition of the value of pastoral activities and reduced conflict between pastoral actors and forest managers. A key factor underlying the success of the endeavour was sustained high-level political involvement, which raises the question of whether such schemes may be limited in their applicability and chance at success.

Projects such as PASTRES (Pastoralism, Uncertainty, and Resilience: Global Lessons from the Margins) are examining the role of pastors in a variety of settings. In a recent blog post from the project, Linda Pappagallo discusses the specific case of applying PES in pastoral rangeland settings in developing countries, which are characterized by uniquely high temporal and spatial variability. Pappagallo first brings appropriate attention to a major limitation (and point of criticism) about PES, which is that the tool is firmly based in assumptions of rational economic behavior and functions solely on market incentives, often ignoring sociocultural and political factors. One conclusion of the study was that case-specific assessments, considering the unique and complex interplay between legal, institutional, political, social, financial, and environmental aspects, are imperative for the design of comprehensive strategies, which may indeed involve PES as one sub-component or temporary instrument, toward meaningful long-term improvements by addressing the deeper problems underlying environmental management issues.

As exemplified clearly by just two studies, the question of the suitbility of PES schemes, in pastoral rangelands and elsewhere, is a complex topic. Some major progress is still to be made, but successful cases may hint at key pathways toward improved recognition of pastoralists and the services their activities provide to society when executed properly.

For related reading, see the references below or check out other projects investigating similar topics in Spain; MOSAICO (Extremadura) (active land management incorporating pastoralists and social innovation in rural areas as a fire prevention strategy) and Ramats de Foc (Catalonia) (targeted grazing for biomass reduction in forested areas, coupled with a market strategy involving local markets that sell the products of these herds).


  1. Varela, E.., Górriz-Mifsud, E., Ruiz-Mirazo J., López-i-Gelats, F. 2018. Forests 9, 464.
  2. T., Hart, K., Baldock, D. 2009. Provision of Public Goods through Agriculture in the European Union. Report Prepared for DG Agriculture and Rural Development, Contract No 30-CE-0233091/00-28, Institute for European Environmental Policy: London.
  3. [EEA] European Environmental Agency. High nature value (HNV) farmland. Updated 2017. https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/high-nature-value-farmland
  4. Bernués, A., Riedel, J.L., Asensio, M.A., Blanco, M., Sanz, A., Revilla, R., Casasús, I. 2005. Livestock Production Science 96, 75-85.
  5. Herrero, M., Addison, J., Bedelian, C., Carabine, E., Havlik, P., Henderson, B., van de Steeg, J., Thornton, P. 2016. Revue Scientifique et Technique de l’OIE 35, 417-433.
  6. Nori, M., Taylor, M., Sensi, A. 2008. Browsing on fences: Pastoral land rights, livelihoods and adaptation to climate change. Russell Press, Nottingham, UK.
2019-02-21T17:34:04+00:00 February 21st, 2019|Categories: NEWS|0 Comments

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