Mary Ann Manahan is a Filipina feminist activist researcher and doctoral assistant with the Conflict Research Group (CRG) of the Department of Conflict and Development Studies in Ghent University. Prior to her academic post, she worked with an activist NGO and various social movements advocating for redistribution, environmental, gender and social justice, and alternative development for 17 years. Her academic research interests encompass a broad range of topics in land and forest politics, socio-ecological dynamics, social movement activism, and beyond development. She aspires for radical collective actions that dismantle systems and structures of oppression and facilitate lasting systemic transformations.
Navigating neoliberal forest conservation and territorial sovereignty struggles: A case on Payment for Ecosystem Services in the Talaandig’s indigenous territory in Northern Mindanao, Philippines
Green is the new black. Or more precisely, green neoliberal solutions are being pushed left and right by various development actors as panacea to the interlocking economic, climate, and environmental crises we collectively confront today. The latest hype is Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), a neoliberal forest conservation scheme that marketizes nature and monetizes ecosystem services provided by forests such as clean drinking water, flood control, etc. (Wunder, 2015). PES transforms forest-based communities such as indigenous peoples into ‘ecosystem service sellers and forest managers’ while urban downstream communities, agribusiness, and others become ‘buyers’ of these services, thereby reducing rural-urban relations into a market transaction.
However, PES interacts with and is mediated by historical and on-going socio-ecological processes, practices, and conflicts around forest management, which include contestations between indigenous peoples’ struggles for self-determination and control of their territories and the (colonial) state’s exercise of its eminent domain power and role as the ultimate arbiter of forest rights, use, and managemen t. Building on this contentious politics, in this paper, I intend to develop a literature review and initial framing that draw from critical agrarian studies, political ecology, development sociology, and anthropology. With Peluso and Vandergeest’s (2020) concept of ‘political forests’ and La Via Campesina’s notion of ‘territorial sovereignty’ as my entry points, my paper will critically engage with old and new debates around these two concepts and link them with neoliberal conservation. By synthesizing the debates, I hope to map where they are heading and take them to a new direction.
Keywords: Neoliberal conservation, political forests, territorial sovereignty, PES, contestations
Affiliation: Ghent University, Belgium