Frame Displacement Strategy

In all three successful cases, IWM campaigns gained traction after switching to a frame-displacement strategy that redefined the original production/poverty frame to include IWM reform. The redefined production/poverty frame characterized watershed resources as an integral part of the production chain. The destruction of watershed resources led to loss of production and thus income. Managing these resources in an integrated manner was crucial to maintaining, and even improving, production. This made it a poverty-reduction strategy. In contrast to counter-framing strategies, IWM reform (including conservation efforts) were not framed as conflicting with poverty-reduction goals. Rather, they were a strategy for achieving these goals.

The shift to a frame-displacement strategy resulted from negotiation among and learning by local stakeholders, who typically led efforts to craft the new strategy. Chapter 7, for example, describes how local indigenous organizers who joined Tungurahua’s IWM coalition developed a strategy to displace the dominant production/poverty frame and include IWM reform: Tungurahua’s IWM advocates changed their education campaign to emphasize watershed resources as an integral part of the economic production cycle. Figure 6.4 illustrates the

Displaced Production/Poverty Frame in Tungurahua. Image source

Figure 6.4 Displaced Production/Poverty Frame in Tungurahua. Image source: author’s photographs of campaign posters publicly displayed in Tungurahua.

logic as presented through images in campaign materials. IWM reform was framed as a strategy for protecting watershed catchment areas to ensure sufficient water for irrigation. Reforms also included strategies for making agricultural production in less ecologically fragile areas more efficient, allowing farmers to increase their overall production. Increasing local farmers’ access to markets would further increase their income, lowering poverty levels. In this way, IWM reform, and the conservation of watershed resources, were directly linked to poverty reduction. This link was symbolized in the name given to the financing mechanism at the heart of Tungurahua’s IWM reforms—The Fund for Paramo Management and the Fight Against Poverty [emphasis added]. The results of this framing strategy are reflected in the words of a local farmer, who said “we have to work to improve the paramos because it is gold; it is what makes the markets function. If there are improvements in my products, I can provide better education for my children. I’ll have money to go to the doctor.”8

The frame displacement strategy was successful not only in Andean watersheds where farmers relied on irrigation. El Chaco’s IWM coalition similarly succeeded after framing IWM reform as a strategy for improving economic production and reducing poverty. As I explain later, they did so by framing IWM reform as the best strategy for protecting the flow of rivers and solving the problem of landslides. Slogans like “water, the vital liquid” highlighted the importance of rivers for hydroelectricity and ecotourism, which local politicians and urban residents saw as crucial for economic development. Since both hydroelectricity and ecotourism depended on a healthy ecosystem and strong rivers, IWM reform was viewed as an economic development strategy. For the 80% of El Chaco’s residents who raise dairy cattle, landslides represented a serious threat to their production capacity. IWM advocates identified deforestation as the cause of these landslides and presented IWM reform as the best solution. Many farmers subsequently supported the reforms, citing their desire to avoid production losses.

In each case, the frame-displacement strategy was successful because it presented conservation and economic production as complementary, rather than competing, goals. Specifically, the displaced production/poverty frame characterized conservation as necessary to avoid serious losses to production capabilities. These losses included reduced irrigation, soil degradation, and landslides. The displaced frame also stressed economic benefits, including increased efficiency and expanded markets.

Both theory and evidence suggest the frame’s loss avoidance component was likely more influential. Prospect theory asserts that people tend to strongly

Interview by author, Yatzaputzan, Tungurahua, November 30, 2009.

prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains (Mercer 2005; Tversky and Kahneman 1981). People therefore make more effort and take more risks to avoid losses than to pursue gains. This would explain why landowners tended to reject IWM advocates’ offers of monetary payments to stop producing in ecologically fragile areas, even when they would gain economically. Yet these same landowners agreed to conserve these same areas when they believed not doing so would produce production losses. They were eager to accept compensation in the form of assistance to improve their production capabilities in ways that would protect against losses.

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