News | Sub-Saharan Africa | 30 August 2016

Low participation of women and unequal gender benefits in Payments for Ecosystem Services

recent study of several payments for ecoystem services (PES) schemes in Kenya calls attention to the question of whether the benefits are accruing to both genders equally. Payments for ecosystem (or environmental) services, are an increasingly popular practice to incentivize farmers, landowners and other stakeholders to engage in sustainable activities – such as natural resource and biodiversity conservation, reforestation, and  water supply maintenance – by paying them for the performance of such services.  This creates a market value for such services, which have typically been undervalued despite having enormous environmental and social impacts. Interest in PES schemes is gaining among governments, private businesses and NGOs alike, as the importance of these services becomes clear.

While PES schemes are not typically designed with the goal of relieving poverty, they nevertheless often provide the “sellers” of the services with larger incomes and valuable business skills. However the new study (publication forthcoming) performed by researchers from the University of Hohenheim and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) with funding from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), looked at three examples of PES to determine whether women were included in the design and execution of the schemes. In all three cases, they found low participation by women in the schemes. This was in large part because participation in PES is closely linked to land ownership. The “buyers” of ecosystem services must be sure that their sellers have a legal right and practical access to the land where the services will be performed, but women in sub-Saharan Africa own only 15% of agricultural land on average, though they are 50% of the agricultural labor force. This precludes women from taking equal benefit from market-based conservation schemes like PES. A similar assessment of PES schemes in rural Mexico in 2012 found that women were only 20% of full members in ejidos, communal land tenure organizations through which the service agreements are implemented.

As the authors of the Kenyan study recommend, revising PES schemes to take into account land use rights in addition to ownership can help to increase the participation of women in the practice and to ensure that they share its benefits more equally. The study’s findings also reinforce the need for governments, NGOs and other stakeholders to address gender in land ownership more generally as they design and implement sustainability policies and programs.