Academic journal article Environmental Values

Acceptance of a Payment for Ecosystem Services Scheme: The Decisive Influence of Collective Action

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Acceptance of a Payment for Ecosystem Services Scheme: The Decisive Influence of Collective Action

Article excerpt


As scholars have shown, acceptance is key to the success of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme. While many studies adopt a static cost-benefit perspective, few address the social process leading to acceptance. Drawing on Suchman (1995), this article examines the legitimacy process underlying the acceptance of a PES in agriculture. In particular, the role of collective action in the legitimisation process is analysed, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods of discourse analysis. Data from an agroenvironmental PES scheme in France on water quality shows that acceptance depends on the normative and cognitive legitimacy that actors confer upon a public policy.


Payment for ecosystem services, EU Water Framework Directive, collective action, legitimacy, discourse analysis


The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2005) marked an important step in the international community's recognition that the environment provides multiple ecosystem services, such as water quality and climate regulation, which are indispensable for human life.

Since agriculture both uses and produces ecosystem services, it plays a major role in ensuring these services (OECD, 2012). Thus, a large number of environmental policies currently being elaborated concern farming. For example, in the European Union, Agro-environmental Measures (AEMs) have become an essential way to integrate environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). These AEMs are a form of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) (Wunder, 2005). AEMs are voluntary contracts for a five-year period in which farmers commit to changing practices in exchange for compensation. The goal is to preserve ecosystem services such as water quality and biodiversity (European Parliament, 2012).

The challenge for public authorities, however, is to convince a sufficient number of farmers to participate in the programme. In fact, as several studies highlight (Falconer, 2000; Wilson and Hart, 2000; Prager and Nagel, 2008; Murphy et al., 2014), since taking part in an AEM is voluntary, its environmental effectiveness depends inevitably on farmers' participation. These studies have shown that farmers' individual characteristics, such as age, absence of a successor, education and size of the farm, influence their participation (Hodge and Reader, 2010), as well as additional factors such as the level of concertation among actors, the exchange of various forms of knowledge that result (Prager et al., 2012; Morris and Reader, 2006; Sattler and Nagel, 2010), and whether the programme is flexible and adapted to the local context (Ruto and Garrod, 2009). (1)

Certain studies show that although participation is necessary, it is not sufficient (Morris and Potter, 1995; Fish et al., 2003) because it does not always indicate farmers' motivation. For example, Webster and Felton (1993) found that farmers compensated for the loss of yield they expected on their AEM plots by intensifying production on their non-AEM lands. Therefore, the negative impact of their practices on natural resources remained unchanged or worsened. Thus, other researchers (Schenk et al., 2007; Prager and Freese, 2009; Sattler and Nagel, 2010) consider that the success of an AEM depends on acceptance, meaning that farmers interiorise the scheme's goals and are convinced that the farming practices benefit the environment (Prager and Freese, 2009). However, as Schenk et al. (2007) point out, few studies have addressed the process of gaining acceptance, and thus our understanding remains very incomplete (Prager and Freese, 2009). Yet understanding acceptance is crucial for improving the effectiveness of a voluntary public programme and for rethinking the management of ecosystem services. In addition, the literature on PES schemes calls for more research on the social mechanisms that lead to inclusive stakeholder participation, collaboration and learning in ecosystem services management (Mann et al. …

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