The cost-effectiveness of conservation payments
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International donors invest billions of dollars to conserve ecosystems in low-income nations. The most common investments aim to encourage commercial activities, such as ecotourism, that indirectly generate ecosystem protection as a joint product. We demonstrate that paying for ecosystem protection directly can be far more cost-effective. Although direct-payment initiatives have imposing institutional requirements, we argue that all conservation initiatives face similar challenges. Thus conservation practitioners would be well advised to implement the first-best direct-payment approach, rather than a second-best policy option. An empirical example illustrates the spectacular cost savings that can be realized by direct-payment initiatives.