Ecuador is a developing nation with a large agricultural sector. The agricultural sector continues to contribute to Ecuador’s economic growth but also leads to deforestation. While climate change is of great concern to the country, ecosystem conservation is an immediate need. Seeking to participate in the international Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) program, Ecuador developed its Socio Bosque program. The Socio Bosque program is based on conservation agreements, where the Ecuadorian government pays landowners an annual per-hectare amount for forests that they work to conserve.
The Socio Bosque program is an incentive-based scheme that includes both environmental and socioeconomic targets. While conservation agreements are not a new idea, there are several features of the Socio Bosque program that are unique. Socio Bosque targets the poorest individuals and communities first, sometimes focusing on forests that are less likely to be transformed to agriculture when it has a greater socioeconomic advantage for the community. The Socio Bosque program is administered by Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment (MAE). The MAE has signed over 1,000 agreements with individuals and nearly 100 agreements with communities, covering over 800,000 hectares. The Socio Bosque program is straightforward and can be implemented in other countries. Valuable lessons learned from the Ecuadorian government for other countries include:
- Building titled land. One of the programmatic requirements was that the landowner must have a title for the conservation area. However, not all Ecuadorians have a title to their land. Part of this program has been to increase the quality of land tenure so that more Ecuadorian land owners have the appropriate documentation to participate in the program, which also has longer-reaching consequences for individual land-owners’ rights and personal wealth.
- Monitoring is turning out to be costlier to the program than anticipated. This is partially due to the requirement that the forest remain intact, but also that land-owners act to stimulate a healthy ecosystem and biodiversity in the forest. This is difficult to define and to measure. Future programs should consider monitoring methods from the start.
- Long-term metrics need to be established. The program had originally been designed to compare the land deforested against base deforestation rates of previous years. This is no longer deemed adequate. For example, large weather events can contribute to deforestation but do not necessarily reflect the success or failure of the program. To build a durable program the metrics for success must be re-evaluated.
- Establishing outreach networks. Part of the program includes dispatching field agents to hold workshops and engage non-participants with resources they need to apply for the program, as well as to connect program participants to share best practices. The program asks the participants to submit a plan on how the payments are to be spent and includes advice and encouragement on how to invest in climate action.