Forests, Farms, and the Future of the Lacandon Jungle: Payments for Environmental Services in Mexico, 2007–2014


In 2007, the tropical forests of Marqués de Comillas, a municipality in Mexico’s Lacandon jungle, were disappearing rapidly. Poor farmers who had migrated to the region during the 1970s relied on clear-cutting the forest to open up land for agriculture, and they were cutting more and more trees every year. After 1997, the average deforestation rate accelerated to 4.8% per year from 2.7%. By 2005, only 35% of the municipality’s forested area remained. In 2007, former environment minister Julia Carabias decided to take action. Carabias and her team at Natura Mexicana, a nongovernmental organization, joined with local communities to enroll participants in the National Forestry Commission’s payments for environmental services (PES) program and find economic alternatives to clearing the forest for agricultural use. PES, which remunerated landholders who preserved their trees, immediately slowed deforestation in the areas where it was implemented. Natura Mexicana’s work in environmental education, land planning, and ecotourism development helped change farmers’ attitudes about the importance of protecting the rain forest.

Blair Cameron drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Mexico in March and April 2015. The case was funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation in collaboration with the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Case published September 2015.

payments for environmental services
Focus Area(s)
Natural Resources
Critical Tasks
Agricultural intensification
Common pool resources & public goods
Conserving forests
Crime & natural resources
Resource protection & enforcement
Core Challenge
Collective action
Credibility (trust)
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Blair Cameron