Ecuadorian water funds’ use of scale-sensitive strategies to stay on course in forest and landscape restoration governance

June 2022

by Daniel Wiegant, Jara Bakx, Nina Flohr, Pieter van Oel, Art Dewulf

A landscape of a mountainous watershed in Ecuador.

Water funds are task-specific organisations that conserve and restore watersheds. The funds provide sustained finance and a collaborative space for actors at different levels to improve the water regulation functions of upstream ecosystems, safeguard water quality, and establish ecological connectivity with the aim of ensuring downstream water quantity and quality. However, while implementing conservation and restoration efforts at local level, water funds encounter scale challenges, consisting of mismatches between the ecological and the governance scale and misalignment between governance levels. This study's aim is to identify and unravel both the scale challenges with which two Ecuadorian water funds (FONAG and FORAGUA) were confronted and the scale-sensitive governance strategies that they planned and deployed to overcome them. We collected data through a document review, 48 semi-structured interviews, and participatory observation, and used content analysis methods to analyse the interview transcripts. Consequently, at both funds, we identified a blind spot towards rural livelihood realities, a temporal mismatch between short-term election cycles and long-term restoration timelines, and a spatial mismatch between the reach of restoration efforts and degradation processes. At FORAGUA, we also identified heterogeneity across levels regarding the purpose of restoration, with different spatial implications. We identified a total of 12 tailored strategies that the two water funds deployed or aim to deploy in reaction to these challenges in an attempt to re-create fit with ecological processes and alignment with other governance levels. Some of these strategies caused new scale challenges to emerge. By observing and acting on emerging scale challenges, water funds try to stay on course to achieve restoration objectives. We conclude that the water funds, which are governance arrangements designed to create spatial and temporal fit with ecological processes, have to continuously adapt their governance strategies to maintain cross-scale fit and cross-level alignment.


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