Balancing Conservation and Development

Mar 16, 2010 | Peter Nelson

conservation, economics, and developing countries

New discussion papers by researchers from the Environment for Development (EfD) project examine three urgent issues confronting environmental managers in developing countries: the design of efficient and effective conservation policies, determinants of consumer and producer behavior, and local management of the commons.



National parks are the workhorse of state conservation policies in most developing countries, yet we know little about how they affect local communities. In “Conservation Policies and Labor Markets: Unraveling the Effects of National Parks on Local Wages in Costa Rica,” Juan Robalino and Laura Villalobos-Fiatt explore how national parks affect the socioeconomic conditions of local communities in Costa Rica.

Trees have both economic and ecological purposes in rural Ethiopia, supplying households with wood products for consumption and sale, and decreasing soil degradation. In “Household Tree Planting in Tigrai, Northern Ethiopia: Tree Species, Purposes, and Determinants,” Zenebe Gebreegziabher, Alemu Mekonnen, Menale Kassie, and Gunnar Köhlin examine the factors that determine whether Ethiopian farmers plant trees.

Like planting trees, leaving crop residue on the farm helps prevent soil erosion, but it also sequesters carbon emissions. In “The Bioeconomics of Conservation Agriculture and Soil Carbon Sequestration in Developing Countries,” Wisdom Akpalu and Anders Ekbom study why some farmers engage in this practice and others do not.

Behavioral economics

Increasingly, environmental economists in developing countries are relying on experiments with actual consumers and farmers to study their behavior. In “Paying the Price of Sweetening Your Donation: Evidence from a Natural Field Experiment” Francisco Alpízar and Peter Martinsson use this method to explore the effect of giving visitors to Costa Rican national parks a gift in exchange for voluntary donation.

In “Does Relative Position Matter in Poor Societies? Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Rural
,” Alpaslan Akay, Peter Martinsson, and Haileselassie Medhin rely on experiments to explore the attitudes of rural farmers in northern Ethiopia toward relative (versus absolute) social position.

conservation, economics, and developing countries

Finally, in “Attitudes Toward Uncertainty Among the Poor: Evidence from Rural Ethiopia,” Alpaslan Akay, Peter Martinsson, Haileselassie Medhin, and Stefan Trautmann” use data from experiments to compare risk and ambiguity attitudes among Ethiopian peasants and Western university students.

Local management of the commons

The pioneering work of this year’s Nobel laureate in economics, Elinor Ostrom, demonstrates that local communities can develop and enforce rules to efficiently and effectively manage public goods like forests and pastures. In “Determinants of Performance of Drinking-Water Community Organizations: A Comparative Analysis of Case Studies in Rural Costa Rica,” Róger Madrigal, Francisco Alpízar, and Achim Schlüter adopt Ostrom’s analytical framework to examine how community organizations provide safe drinking water to 60 percent of rural Costa Rica.

These papers provide a valuable window into the unique challenges faced by developing countries, from Ethiopa to Costa Rica, as they work to better the lives of their citizens while preserving their natural heritage. The papers discussed here, along with all Environment for Development publications are available on RFF’s EfD publications page.

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These publications continue the efforts of the Environment for Development Initiative to improve environmental policymaking in developing countries. RFF collaborates with the Environmental Economics Unit at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden in international research and the creation of centers around the world.