Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/Payment for Ecosystem Services in the Chinantec Communities of the Mexican Cloud Forest

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Payment for Ecosystem Services in the Chinantec Communities of the Mexican Cloud Forest


Map of Chinantla region

The community forestry case study analyzed by this Wiki page is the Chinantec community of the Mexican cloud forest region in the northern part of the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The case study will identify and describe the elements of a successful implementation of a Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) program within a large community of indigenous people.

The cloud forest region is one of Mexico’s most biologically diverse regions, with over 3,000 species of vascular plants.[1], as well as populations of jaguars and other felines [2]. Agricultural areas support crops such as corn, chili, wild greens, and avocados [2].

Most of the territory known as the Chinantla—14 municipalities spread over 460,000 ha—is communally governed [3]. The Chinantla people formed the Chinantec community which is an inter-community membership organization called the Natural Resources Committee of the Upper Chinantla (Comité de Recursos Naturales de la Chinantla Alta-CORENCHI), which was legally established in 2005 with six communities: Santa Cruz, San Antonio el Barrio, San Pedro, Santiago Tlatepusco, Analco and Nopalera Rosario[4].

Payment for Ecosystem Services

In 2004, the CORENCHI communities of Santa Cruz, El Barrio, Analco, and San Pedro worked with the Mexican government to implement a PES program for stewardship of the Papaloapan watershed[3]. They also established federally certified voluntary community conservation areas - known as Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCA) by the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP)- which is the largest single block of certified ICCAs in Mexico[4]. Within Mexico, the specific PES system is referred to as the Payment for Hydrological Services (PHS). The PES makes payments to the CORENCHI community in compensation for restricting forest resource and development in sensitive ecosystem areas. The payments were originally funded from a tax on downstream water users, but more recently has shifted to a partially voluntary contribution system([3])


Recent History of CORENCHI Community

Denham[3] reports "The agrarian reform won by the Mexican Revolution (1910-20)— a war fought against the land concentration that followed the dispossession of indigenous lands since the European conquest—offered two forms of tenure. The ejido granted usufruct rights to mestizo peasant communities for land over which the state retained ultimate ownership; the agrarian community was land granted to some indigenous communities that could prove their absolute, precolonial rights to particular territories with colonial documents[5]".

But for most of the 20th century, Chinantec communities were extremely mistrustful of outsiders, and reportedly fled to the forest when outsiders came into the community[6]. The 1970's saw the first government programs establishing basic trust with the CORENCHI through the introduction of coffee production with the Mexican Coffee Institute[4]. Even Into the 1980's, CORENCHI communities were remote, and road-less, with limited interaction with the rest of the Mexican nation[7]. Authoritarian leadership regimes were common, and conflicts with neighbors lead to deadly boundary disputes between villages[4]. Soil and forest resources were abundant, and populations were low, so though informal land use rules existed around corn and coffee lands, few rules existed on natural resource extraction[4]. To help alleviate poverty in the region, the Rural Food Supply Network (Diconsa), initiated community food stores during this time period which was the seed for later community assemblies[4].

The first Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) started arriving in the 1990's[4]. Research projects, and training workshops in domestic activities were initiated in several communities[4]. Trust with outside actors was slowly developed through these pioneering interactions with the outside world. Bray[4] reports that "beginning around 2000, growing international concern over degradation and deforestation brought new national and international attention to the large intact forests of the Chinantla, and resulted in a rapid expansion in the number of external actors interested in the region, and a corresponding much greater density of the support networks in multi-scale governance."

Tenure arrangements

Indigenous rights issues in Mexico and around the world were popularized during the 1970's and 1980's. After the Zapatista uprising in 1994, which was based on armed indigenous people rebelling against the North American Free Trade Act over fear of losing title to their lands, the Oaxaca government amended the constitution in 1998 to reflect respect for collective rights of indigenous people’s ways of life and government, and formed the legal basis on which indigenous peoples could legitimize their demands[3].

Freehold or State Owned Land

Despite the new government policies, management of the ICCA's and PES lands did not become freehold: to this day, forest management agreements are conducted under oversight from the national government for limited periods of tenure[3]. Mexico’s CONANP commission created a program to certify forest reserves such as the CORENCHI ICCAs for a period of 25 years[8]. Despite the lack of permanent tenure to the land, the CORENCHI have worked together to establish integrated management of the land. The identification of these ICCAs as Voluntary Community Conservation Areas, was important for building support from the CORENCHI; emphasizing the voluntary nature of their commitment reaffirmed their territorial sovereignty[3].

Who Controls Land Use Decisions

Though the CORENCHI managed lands are ultimately owned by the state, they do have the ability to manage the land and appropriate funds as directed by the assemblies, which are internally organized community governing bodies[3].

Denham[3] reported that “sovereignty and self-determination were reinforced in the following ways:

  1. Decisions regarding the approval and administration of conservation initiatives are made by the consensus-based assembly, the maximum governing body of indigenous communities in Mexico.
  2. Labor requirements—while substantial—are determined in the assembly where those undertaking work decide when work will take place. Work is carried out through traditional communal work tequios, a decision made by the assembly to avoid weakening this pillar of local government.
  3. Program implementation focuses on improving rather than deterring subsistence farming. Unlike other PES programs, there is no attempt to reduce traditional maize production, which is the basis of local food security.
  4. All funds are managed with transparency through the assembly; some are reserved for locally prioritized development initiatives.
  5. PES functions in conjunction with—and on land forming part of—an ICCA where community members retain rights to most traditional uses.”

In addition to the self-direction appropriated by law, the CORENCHI have access to the ICCA and PES subsections of the ICCAs for most traditional uses. People collect firewood, food, medicinal plants and reeds from the ICCA, along with agricultural uses, grazing and hunting of some animals in maize fields[3].

Local Decision Making

Communities which receive PES in Mexico develop a “Manual of Good Management,” which details how natural resources will be administered in the area receiving payments, and what activities will be implemented to protect the watershed[3]. The National Forest Commission provides general guidelines as well as a list of approved conservation activities from which communities can choose to implement, but each plan is developed locally and validated by the assembly [3].

CORENCHI communities have certified on average 77% of their territories as ICCAs, and PES have been granted on 14–72% of the ICCA area, depending on the year and community[3]. Both ICCAs and PES have been implemented by this tradition of community organization (assemblies, tequios, and forest conservation)[3]. The assemblies approve and coordinate conservation initiatives, determine land use practices in conservation areas, decide what conservation labor will be carried out and when, and determine how PES funds will be distributed[3]. Denham[3] reports that “When asked to explain the ICCA, one community member said: “We have the right to decide what to do with our territory. It’s not for the government to decide what we have to do. [The ICCA] is a voluntary recognition, in which our community is autonomous to make our own decisions.”

Case Study in Local Decision Making

Denham[3] reports "Implementation of CORENCHI initiated management proposals involved two unique features not specified in program design. First,CORENCHI proposed that conservation work take place through tequios; assemblies wished to protect this pillar of community organization and approved the proposal. Second, the CORENCHI negotiated with the National Forest Commission to insist on the inclusion of firebreaks in the agricultural zone as an officially recognized conservation activity. The National Forest Commission originally recognized only PES activities taking place within the limits conservation area, but conceded CORENCHI’s arguments for holistic territorial planning and amended national rules."

Administrative arrangements

The Mexican Constitution (Article 27and agrarian laws) grants rights to indigenous communities, or comunidades, to own their territory collectively, and directs that management is the responsibility of the individual community members or comuneros[9].

Bray[4] further describes the administration of the ICCAs as follows: “Community governance is a blend of traditional practices and structures mandated by Mexican agrarian law. The main decision-making body is the General Assembly, and the executor of Assembly decisions is the Comisariado (composed of a president, secretary and treasurer) and an Oversight Council (composed of a president and two secretaries) who carry out the decisions of the Assembly. The Comisariado and the Oversight Council are elected democratically for three-year terms, although the Assembly can reduce the period for non-performance. Crucially, it is the Assembly that establishes rules for land use and governs access and use of the forest common property, although constrained by agrarian and forest law. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and multilateral agencies also are important players and are classified here as “local” (normally state-level), “national” (usually with offices in Mexico City), and international (main offices abroad; including bilateral and multilateral agencies)."

Administration of Capital from PES Program

The PES program payments from the government follow existing community governance structures, and are subsequently distributed through the assembly with total transparency[3]. Denham[3] reports "The National Forest Commission makes one lump-sum payment to the assembly, which determines allocation. CORENCHI agreed on a distribution system by percentages; one part is used for community infrastructure, another put in interest-drawing community savings accounts, and another paid out to households. In some communities a special distribution is made for youth or elders. The sum paid to households, variable depending on assembly decisions, ranged from 4000 to 8000 pesos per year (500–1000 dollars in purchasing power parity USD [PPP USD] at time of study, 2016) and is unrelated to work days contributed by members. Payments were used for basic household needs including food, medicine, shoes, clothing, schooling costs, and construction materials.”

PES payments are made every year or two, and sometimes are not distributed to individuals at all if there are public works that need to be funded[3]. Some community members want to see the money all distributed at once, but the majority understand that money must be held in common for community projects[3]. A major road was built in 2005 and 2006 which would not have been possible had the monies all been distributed[3]. This helps to clarify why payments are perceived as a reward for participation in mandatory tequios and not a compensation that corresponds precisely to a specific task.

The PES payments were originally paid to the CORENCHI communities directly by the government, which received the monies from fees collected from water users [9]. However the payment scheme has changed to a voluntary payment from regional businesses which dropped the payments in half as of 2014[3]

Affected Stakeholders

Stakeholder power is expressed in the community assemblies[4]. This is the forum for expressing grievances and addressing issues[3]. Affected stakeholders are user groups who are directly affected by land use decisions and include:

  • Farmers/agricultural workers – Most men are subsistence corn farmers with income historically coming primarily from coffee[3]. Cultivation includes maize, pineapple, avocado. They have a seat in the assemblies with voting power.
  • Ranchers
  • Wood cutters
  • Coffee growers

Interested Outside Stakeholders

Interested stakeholders are stakeholders outside of the community who have an interest in the community operations.

  • Interested stakeholders include:
  • Mexican Government
  • Oaxaca State Government
  • World Bank
  • Non-government organizations (NGOs) such asGeoconservación, a Mexican NGO that has worked for 12 years in the Chinantla and plays an intermediary role between the federal government and the CORENCHI[3]
  • Universities - visiting scientists, particularly climate change


As CORENCHI communities became more integrated with the culture and economic systems of the Mexican state, they adopted PES and ICCAs as an integrated initiative to satisfy livelihood needs based on traditional practices, while also implementing a community belief in the collective action necessary for long-term forest conservation[3].


Bray[4] emphasizes how the CORENCHI are an outlier case study of community governance within the literature on common property natural resource management. Bray[4] reports "It is a case where communities managing their common property engaged first in turbulent collective action at the community level, and second in turbulent collective action at the inter-community level that overcame long-standing mistrust, to maximize benefits from a strategy of not harvesting from their forest common properties."

Denham[3] discusses reasons why this particular PES system has worked for the CORENCHI, while it has not succeeded in other regions: The PES as applied in the CORENCHI community was not explicitly based on World Bank prescriptions of efficiency and market development, and have instead moved toward the more inclusive needs and contributions of rural communities to reflect “a more complex paradigm in which environmental services are co-produced by communities and nature”[10].

In interviews with CORECNHI communities in 2015, ninety percent of respondents reported that they felt they benefited from the PES program[3]. Though many felt the payments were low, they believed they were doing the right thing by protecting the land[3].


Some disadvantages of the conservation area as described by community members include limitations on hunting and less space for growing maize, which warrant revision by assemblies as well as their organizational partners and policymakers[4]. Other criticisms include the desire to improve fallow periods by changing ICCA boundaries or providing opportunities for seasonal hunting, which could be practical options for strengthening food sovereignty[9].

Case Study in Conflict Resolution and Autonomy

In 2005, the Oaxaca office of CONAP proposed to establish a Biosphere Reserve in the CORENCHI community, a much more restrictive form of land use, and which can be established by Presidential Decree[4]. The CORENCHI were initially interested in the idea, but tensions arose between government agencies desiring the reserve, and CORENCHI NGO’s, with similar splits arising in the communities[4]. CORENCHI leadership worked with an NGO to obtain legal assistance in 2007 and gradually decided that they would lose too much autonomy over the land[4]. Things came to a head at the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Mérida, Yucatan in 2009, when CORENCHI leaders announced publicly that they did not want a Reserve decree[4]. The decision was respected and no Biosphere Reserve Decree was issued[4].

Inter-Community Collective Action

Given the spatial inter-connectedness of the CORENCHI community (14 communities over 460,000 ha), conflict between populations would be expected[4]. Neighboring communities often experience conflict and turbulence over territorial boundaries, and resource use. Bray[4] discusses the idea of turbulence as negotiating the conflicts between between actors, in this case local governing bodies. In the CORENCHI communities, Bray[4] reports that "turbulent multi-scale governance goes beyond “low cost adjudication” in conflict resolution and embraces the idea that conflict resolution is a process of on-going negotiations between actors in multiple arenas rather than discrete conflicts to be adjudicated." With multi-scale governmental systems, central governments should not undermine the authority of local governments. Multi-scale governance in this context includes the co-production of rules by multiple actors at multiple scales[11]. The information flow between governments and communities can alleviate cross purposes and prevent issues from developing into full scale conflict.


Assessments of Rights


A common theme among community organizations in rural areas is the lack of empowerment of woman. It has been demonstrated that women in community organizations tend to appropriate monies more directly into the communities then men[12]. The CHORENCHI community assemblies, which hold decision making power, are still male dominated. Women have no say in these assemblies. I believe it would enrich the dialogue to include women as voting members of the assembly councils.


  1. Meave, J. A., Rincón, A., & Romero-Romero, M. A. (2006). Oak Forests of the Hyper-Humid Region of La Chinantla, Northern Oaxaca Range, Mexico. In Ecology and Conservation of Neotropical Montane Oak Forests (pp. 113–125). Berlin/Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Duran, E., Robson, J., Briones-Salas, M., Barton Bray, D., & Berkes, F. (2012). Protected Landscapes and Wild Biodiversity. Values of Protected Landscapes and Seascapes (Vol. 3).
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 Denham, D. (2017). Community Forest Owners Evaluate a Decade of Payments for Ecosystem Services in the Mexican Cloud Forest: The Importance of Attention to Indigenous Sovereignty in Conservation. Society and Natural Resources, 30(9), 1064–1079.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 Bray, D.B., Duran, E. & Molina, O., (2012). Beyond Harvests in the Commons: Multi-Scale Governance and Turbulence in Indigenous Community Conserved Areas in Oaxaca, Mexico.. International Journal of the Commons. 6(2), pp.151–178. DOI:
  5. Bartra, A., and Otero, G. 2008. Movimientos indígenas campesinos en México: la lucha por la tierra, la autonomía y la democracia. In Recuperando La Tierra: El Resurgimiento de Movimientos Rurales En África, Asia y América Latina, ed. S. Moyo and P. Yeros, 401–428. Buenos Aires, Argentina: CLACSO, Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales.
  6. Bevan, B. 1938. The Chinantec: Report on the Central and South-Eastern Chinantec Region. Publication No. 24. Mexico City: Instituto Panamericano de Geografía e Historia.
  7. De Teresa, A. P. 2011. QUIA-NA, La selva Chinanteca y sus Pobladores. Juan Pablos Editor: Mexico City.
  8. Martin, G., C. Camacho, S. Ansa Fonseca, F. Chapela, and M. A. González Ortíz. 2011. ICCAs in Oaxaca, Mexico. Management of Environmental Quality 22 (2):250–66.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Nieratkaa, L., Bray, D., & Mozumder, P. (2015). Can Payments for Environmental Services Strengthen Social Capital, Encourage Distributional Equity, and Reduce Poverty? Conservation and Society, 13(4), 345.
  10. McAfee, K. & Elizabeth N. Shapiro (2010) Payments for Ecosystem Services in Mexico: Nature, Neoliberalism, Social Movements, and the State, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 100:3, 579-599
  11. Ostrom, E. 1996. Crossing the Great Divide: Coproduction, Synergy, and Development. World Development 24(16):073–1087.
  12. Larkin, O. 2014. Policy Options. Addressing Barriers to Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship will Require More Access to Financing, Child Care and Awareness of Programs. Available from:

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This conservation resource was created by Dwight Chapman. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.