Benefits, costs, and livelihood implications of a regional payment for ecosystem service program

Hua Zheng, Brian E. Robinson, Yi Cheng Liang, Stephen Polasky, Dong Chun Ma, Feng Chun Wang, Mary Ruckelshaus, Zhi Yun Ouyang, Gretchen C. Daily

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Despite broad interest in using payment for ecosystem services to promote changes in the use of natural capital, there are few expost assessments of impacts of payment for ecosystem services programs on ecosystem service provision, program cost, and changes in livelihoods resulting from program participation. In this paper, we evaluate the Paddy Land-to-Dry Land (PLDL) program in Beijing, China, and associated changes in service providers' livelihood activities. The PLDL is a land use conversion program that aims to protect water quality and quantity for the only surface water reservoir that serves Beijing, China's capital city with nearly 20 million residents. Our analysis integrates hydrologic data with household survey data and shows that the PLDL generates benefits of improved water quantity and quality that exceed the costs of reduced agricultural output. The PLDL has an overall benefit- cost ratio of 1.5, and both downstream beneficiaries and upstream providers gain from the program. Household data show that changes in livelihood activities may offset some of the desired effects of the program through increased expenditures on agricultural fertilizers. Overall, however, reductions in fertilizer leaching from land use change dominate so that the program still has a positive net impact on water quality. This program is a successful example of water users paying upstream landholders to improve water quantity and quality through land use change. Program evaluation also highlights the importance of considering behavioral changes by program participants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16681-16686
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 8 2013


  • Regional collaboration
  • Social-ecological systems
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainable household livelihoods
  • Watershed management


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