Payments for agrobiodiversity conservation services (PACS)

Applying PES to agrobiodiversity conservation issues

Payments for agrobiodiversity conservation services (PACS) may be understood as a subcategory of agriculture-related payments for environmental services (PES) that focuses on socially valuable and threatened local plant and animal genetic resources (PAGR). The consideration of PES for the promotion of PAGR is limited, and represents an innovative use of PES. Only very recently, research has been done to assess the potential of PACS to create incentives for the conservation of agrobiodiversity, especially in the context of poor rural communities in developing countries where most threatened and valuable local varieties can still be found.

Genetic Diversity
PACS might be expected to focus on a particular agricultural practice, such as sustaining the on-farm utilization of local PAGR. The on-farm utilization of local PAGR in turn relates to the on-farm conservation of genetic diversity, which is associated with provision of certain agrobiodiversity conservation services, including:

  • the provision of highly nutritious foods with unique tastes,
  • the maintenance of resilient production systems (a form of insurance),
  • the maintenance of cultural traditions, local identities and traditional knowledge, and
  • the maintenance of evolutionary processes, gene flows, and future option values.

Who is involved?
The “providers” of such services are most likely to be found in less intensive agricultural systems. Relevant communities are located in remote areas of developing countries, consisting of small-scale farmers who manage species, varieties, or breeds with unique adaptive traits (e.g. disease resistance, drought tolerance) bred over many years of domestication across a wide range of environments. 
There may be a range of service “beneficiaries” and thus potential buyers, as the demand for agrobiodiversity conservation services may be assumed to be dispersed, reaching from local farmers and communities, to consumers all over the world and society in general. This has implications for the sustainable financing of PACS (i.e. who will be the service purchasers). 


Main steps in designing a PACS scheme

In addition to associated location targeting and capacity building, four key steps are required to establish a PACS scheme. These are:

1. Defining the conservation strategy.
We need to decide what it is that we want to conserve? Many PAGR are threatened and, given limited funding, we cannot conserve everything. In order to decide what to conserve, we need to prioritize and develop appropriate tools to do so. 

2. Defining the conservation goal.
Having decided which are the priority PAGR that our conservation program should focus on in Step 1, we must now decide how much of these individual PAGR need to be conserved in order for them to no longer be considered threatened. This requires the establishment of PAGR conservation goals that are sufficient to ensure that these resources are maintained within safe ecological limits. 

3. Assessing farmer or community willingness to accept (WTA) rewards to undertake conservation.
Having determined how much of each priority PAGR needs to be conserved, we now need to identify the costs involved in achieving such targets and ideally minimize these costs by identifying farmer households or communities that can provide the desired conservation services at least-cost. Under PACS, as reward payments are conditional on the conservation activity having actually been carried out, such cost calculations also need to include monitoring and verification activities, in addition to overall conservation program management costs.

4. dentifying sustainable sources of funding for the long-term implementation of the PACS scheme.
These are based on the cost requirements identified in Step 3.



PACS concepts and methods have been tested in several case studies in India, Peru, and Bolivia. In India, a survey of 450 farm households has focused on four species of minor millet. The survey shows that those varieties most preferred and most widely cultivated (i.e. the finger millets) have a lower average WTA (INR 1,900/acre per annum) than do those species/varieties at risk. The average WTA for  threatened little, Italian, and common millets is approximately INR 3,300 - 4,300/acre per annum.
In Peru and Bolivia, competitive tender approach was employed among quinoa-growing rural communities. Five varieties in Bolivia and four in Peru were identified as "at risk". Over 15 community-based organizations in each place are involved in the process. The winners of the tender are selected based on who could offer the most conservation (measured by total land area and number of participating farmers) relative to proposed reward level.


Further information
For key findings and policy implications of these case studies, as well as links to further material, please refer to the PACS project page.

Read a 2012 introduction to PACS in the New Agriculturist.

Drucker, A. (2011) Project “Payments for Agrobiodiversity Conservation Services (PACS)” Factsheet 2, Bioversity International, Rome, Italy