Counter-Framing with a Market Frame

The imagery and language surrounding the IWM reform proposal reflected the market frame Tungurahua’s coalition used to counter the dominant pro- duction/poverty frame. Reform proposals, promotional materials, and public speeches consistently identified problems in the supply and demand for water and blamed them on the failure to place an economic value on ecosystem services (Comision Ejecutiva Provincial 2002; Foro Provincial de los Recursos Hidricos en Tungurahua 2002; Maldonado and Kosmus 2003; Metais and Cruz 2003). The coalition’s reform proposal argued that, because natural resources constitute a form of “capital ... it is necessary to identify and value environmental goods and services as one element of the economic system” (Comision Ejecutiva Provincial 2002, 4). “Consumers” of environmental goods and services must make “payments” to “owners” of the land in the watershed in exchange for dedicating this land to “producing” these goods and services. These payments represent the “opportunity cost of forgoing potential income that the land could generate through alternative economic activities” (Comision Ejecutiva Provincial 2002, 3, 15).

GTZ and the provincial government unveiled the proposal developed by the Costa Rican team at a public assembly in February 2002. The plan called for a tax of two cents per cubic meter of water, which would be invested in a fund used to finance conservation, restoration, and development efforts (Comision Ejecutiva Provincial 2002, 34). Given previous social support for watershed management reform generally, GTZ and the provincial government were shocked when the proposal met with fierce resistance. The response by watershed stakeholders illustrates the ineffectiveness of a market-based counterframing strategy.

Members of farmer associations, irrigation councils, and development NGOs utilized production/poverty and environmental justice frames to oppose the proposal, labeling them unjust and anti-poor. They noted that 70% of the funds would come from the agricultural sector, while hydroelectric companies would provide 25%, and domestic, commercial, and industrial consumption combined would account for only 5%. They complained the plan would finance the program on the backs of poor farmers least able to afford it, which would exacerbate poverty and the unequal distribution of water resources.

Indigenous groups (which represented indigenous smallholder farmers) agreed with these arguments, but they also rejected the market frame as violating their cultural values, which prohibit the privatization and commodification of nature. Since concern about water privatization had made water management a national issue (see chapter 4), Ecuador’s National Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, CONAIE, intervened to oppose Tungurahua’s IWM reform proposal. Chapter 6 described how CONAIE and Tungurahua’s indigenous movements utilized cultural symbols to challenge the payment for ecosystem services concept. Equating watershed resources with Pachamama, a sacred deity revered by Andean indigenous people, CONAIE mobilized opposition through the slogan “Pachamama is not for sale!” CONAIE and other national indigenous associations directed their affiliates in Tungurahua to reject the payment for ecosystem services program, which they did.[1] The severity of the backlash startled the provincial government, and Prefect Naranjo later declared he would never accept a payment for ecosystem services system.[2] The phrase “payment for ecosystem services” became toxic, and no organization (including GTZ and the provincial government) publicly supported such a program.

Tungurahua’s experience illustrates the breakdown of grassroots global governance during the rule-making stage of phase 2. Even when an IWM coalition succeeds in placing IWM reform on the agenda of local authorities and mobilizes social support, the proposed rules may be rejected, particularly when they are insensitive to local cultural conditions and developed without local stakeholder involvement. The negative response strained relationships among coalition members. CESA and IEDECA, which had strong ties to local farmers and indigenous communities, criticized GTZ for “imposing” the proposal. Tungurahua’s IWM coalition members stopped meeting and collaborating. Such rejection could easily have ended the reform campaign. However, IWM advocates regrouped and began rebuilding relationships through network activation, particularly with those stakeholders that resisted the first IWM proposal. Tungurahua’s coalition eventually achieved success after making two changes in strategy: adopting a participatory approach to rule making and employing a frame-displacement strategy.

  • [1] Former president, Indigenous Movement of Tungurahua-Atocha (MITA), interview by author, Ambato, Ecuador, November 18, 2009; indigenous organizer, Unity and Development of theIndigenous Movements of Tungurahua, interview by author, Ambato, Ecuador, November 18, 2009;indigenous community organizer, interview by author, Ambato, Ecuador, October 26, 2009.
  • [2] Provincial government official, interview by author, Ambato, Ecuador, January 6, 2010.
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