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Vijay Kolinjivadi

Université du Québec en Outaouais
Conserving nature to conserve production: Understanding Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) within the political economy of potato processing on Prince Edward Island, Canada

Vijay Kolinjivadi, Alejandra Zaga Mendez, Jérôme Dupras

In Prince Edward Island (PEI), producers have been financially incentivized over the past decade to halt soil erosion, improve water quality, and promote habitat for biodiversity through a provincial program called “Alternative Land Use Services” (ALUS). ALUS is the first example of a provincial-wide application of payments for ecosystem services (PES) in Canada, yet few studies have explored the application of PES in a Canadian context. In this study, we consider the implementation and outcomes of land-use retirement for conservation within the political economy of intensive agriculture, and particularly the processing potato sector of PEI. Producers subscribing to the programme reported that a combination of financial incentive and moral imperatives for land-use protection influenced uptake; however, an underlying concern referred to rising annual costs of production and increasingly tighter margins of return. In this situation, producers have consistently stated that land taken out of production through PES incurs costs on the producer, eventually resulting in intensified production or the search for new land to replace lost yields. While PES itself may be altering behaviour on land-use management, producers have little control over the broader neoliberal market structures to which they belong. As such, we distinguish between “voluntary” participation in PES as embedded within an unsustainable and expansionary industrial agricultural model from the autonomy of farmers to regenerate the social and ecological potential of food production. We argue that PES should valorize individual and collective efforts towards land stewardship in resistance to the social and ecological simplifications of industrial agriculture.