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Payments for ecosystem services and intermediaries: investigating potential involvement and programmatic roles in western Panama




Huber-Stearns, Heidi, author
Goldstein, Joshua, advisor
Cottrell, Stuart, advisor
Taylor, Peter, committee member

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Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are a market-based conservation tool seeking to better align economic incentives with conservation by connecting beneficiaries of ecosystem services with providers of these services. A third actor group, known as intermediaries, often plays important roles in PES programs that facilitate transactions between beneficiaries and providers. Intermediaries can come from the public, civil, private, or academic sectors, and they can also operate at local up to national and international scales. As PES programs continue to expand globally, there is a window of opportunity to use lessons learned from existing PES programs to inform the development of new programs to streamline and improve their design and implementation. Examining the roles of program actors (beneficiaries, providers, and intermediaries) is a critical step in this process. My research explored the potential roles of intermediaries in PES schemes through an investigation in the Chiriquí province in western Panama where stakeholders are exploring the development of a regional PES program. I based my analysis upon information gathered from a review of relevant intermediaries literature, which identified four major intermediary roles: information exchange, administration and program implementation, networking, representation and mediation, and program design. I conducted semi-structured interviews with representatives of 34 intermediary organizations in my study region to gain an understanding of their organization's current intermediary roles and potential roles in a future PES program, their relative strengths and limitations in terms of organizational capacity, and how their organizations are connected to each other through networking and collaborations. I performed qualitative analysis using coding and NVivo9 software. My results demonstrate that intermediary organizations are currently performing each of my identified intermediary roles, with information exchange and administration and project implementation being the most common roles. Most interviewees also identified their organization's potential roles in a regional PES scheme, and collectively these roles covered all of my identified intermediary role categories. I also found that interviewees identified challenges that could limit the activity and effectiveness of intermediaries. These challenges related to three general categories: challenges specific to an individual organization, challenges across the entire region, and challenges pertaining to an entire sector (e.g., public sector limitations). Finally, I found that organizational connections vary significantly, with the civil and public sectors, and local and regional scales exhibiting the strongest connections across the organization network, highlighting the value of connecting PES actors across sectors and scales. Overall, my results support previous findings that careful consideration of actors is critical to the appropriate design and implementation of PES programs.


Rights Access


ecosystem services
organization capacity
payments for ecosystem services


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