Understanding how access shapes the transformation of ecosystem services to human well-being with an example from Costa Rica
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Increasingly, ecosystem services have been applied to guide poverty alleviation and sustainable develop-ment in resource-dependent communities. Yet, questions of access, which are paramount in determiningbeneﬁts from the production of ecosystem services, remain theoretically underdeveloped. That is, ecosys-tem assessments typically have paid little attention to identifying real or hypothetical beneﬁciaries andthe mechanisms by which beneﬁts may be realized. This limits their ability to guide policy and interven-tions at the local scale. Through a qualitative mixed methods approach, this article analyzes how accessto different aspects of the production of provisioning services is negotiated in Bribri communities (CostaRica) of small-scale plantain farmers with alternative modes of agricultural production. The analysis con-siders access to land, labour, knowledge, tools, markets, and credit. Our analysis reveals how institutionsof access are organized differently in traditional vs. conventional systems of agriculture and how theseshape power dynamics and pathways to well-being. We conclude that understanding institutions regu-lating access to ecosystem services provides more useful insights for poverty alleviation than approachesthat assume homogeneous access to beneﬁts.
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