The University of Arizona

The mismeasure of nature: the political ecology of economic valuation of Tiger Reserves in India

Ajit Menon, Nitin D Rai


The Indian state has conserved tigers by establishing reserves that are governed as a form of fortress conservation. Residence and local uses in these tiger reserves are often criminalized. It is in this context that we critique recent neoliberal attempts to estimate the economic value of ecosystem services from tiger reserves. Proponents of valuation argue that it will not only provide a justification for the reserves, but also recognize the importance of ecosystem services for human well-being. We use a political ecology approach to argue that economic valuation is never a benign tool, but is situated in wider institutional contexts that favor certain actors over others. In India, protected areas are being valued even as people living within them are being evicted and their use of the forest restricted. We draw from fieldwork in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Hills of Karnataka and conversations with Soligas. We ask how nature is made legible and who benefits from such legibility? We suggest that economic valuation can hide complex human-nature relationships and undermine different ways of knowing and 'valuing' landscapes.

Key Words: tiger reserves, Karnataka, economic valuation

Full Text:



Adams, W.M. 2014. The value of valuing nature. Science 346(6209): 549-551.

Aggarwal, A. 2019. Neo-liberal conservation: analysing carbon forestry and its challenges in India. Economic and Political Weekly 54(16): 33-40.

Barnaud, C. and M. Antona. 2014. Deconstructing ecosystem services: uncertainties and controversies around a socially constructed concept. Geoforum 56: 113–123.

Bijoy, C. R. 2011. The great Indian tiger show. Economic and Political Weekly 46(4): 36–41.

Bresnihan, P. 2016. Transforming the fisheries: neoliberalism, nature, and the commons. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Büscher, B. 2012. Payments for ecosystem services as neoliberal conservation: (reinterpreting) evidence from the Maloti-Drakensberg, South Africa. Conservation and Society 10(1): 29-42.

Coffee Board. 2016. Tigers, elephants and Biligiris coffee. Indian Coffee Magazine 80(11-12): 31-34.

Dempsey, J. and D.C. Suarez. 2016. Arrested development? The promises and paradoxes of 'selling nature to save it'. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3): 653-671.

Descola, P. 2013. Beyond nature and culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fletcher, R. 2010. Neoliberal environmentality: Towards a poststructuralist political ecology of the conservation debate. Conservation and Society 8(3): 171-181.

Fletcher, R. and B. Büscher. 2017. The PES conceit: revisiting the relationship between payments for environmental services and neoliberal conservation. Ecological Economics 132: 224-231.

Gomez-Baggethun, E. and M. Ruiz-Perez. 2011. Economic valuation and the commodification of ecosystem services. Progress in Physical Geography 35: 613–628.

Gowdy, J., C. Hall, K. Klitgaard and L. Krall. 2010. What every conservation biologist should know about economic theory. Conservation Biology 24(6): 1440-1447.

Huff, A. and C. Tonui. 2017. Making 'mangroves together': carbon, conservation and co-management in Gazi Bay, Kenya. STEPS Working Paper 95. Brighton: IDS.

Kallis, G., E. Gomez-Baggethun and C. Zografos. 2013. To value or not to value? That is not the question. Ecological Economics 94: 97-105.

Lele, S. and V. Srinivasan. 2013. Disaggregated economic impact analysis incorporating ecological and social trade-offs and techno-institutional context: a case from the Western Ghats of India. Ecological Economics 91: 98-112.

Lele, S., O. Springate-Baginski, R. Lakerveld, D. Deb and P. Dash. 2013. Ecosystem services: origins, contributions, pitfalls, and alternatives. Conservation and Society 11(4): 343-358.

Li, T.M. 2010. Indigeneity, capitalism, and the management of dispossession. Current Anthropology 51: 385-414.

Lok Sabha. 2013. Unstarred question No. 5378. 29 April. Environment and forests on environment: Lok Sabha 2013-2014. Pp. 390-391. Available at: 6 Nov. 2019).

NDTV Aircel [Accessed on 15 August 2019]

Madegowda, C. 2009. Traditional knowledge and conservation. Economic and Political Weekly 44: 65-69.

Matulis, B.S. 2015. Valuing nature: a reply to Esteve Corbera. Ecological Economics 110: 158-160.

McCauley, D.J. 2006 Selling out on nature. Nature. 443(7): 27-28.

McElwee, P. 2017. The metrics of making ecosystem services. Environment and Society: Advances in Research 8(1): 96–124.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA). 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being. Washington D.C.: Island Press.

Milne, S. and B. Adams. 2012. Market masquerades: uncovering the politics of community-level payments for environmental services in Cambodia. Development and Change 43(1): 133-158.

Munster, D. and U. Munster. 2012. Consuming the forest in an environment of crisis: nature tourism, forest conservation and neoliberal agriculture in south India. Development and Change 43(1): 205-227.

Ojha, H., T. Maraseni, A. Nightingale, B. Bhattarai and D. Khatri. 2019. Rescuing forests from the carbon trap. Forest Policy and Economics 101: 15-18.

Rasmussen, M.B. and C. Lund 2018. Reconfiguring frontier spaces: the territorialization of resource control. World Development 101: 388-399.

Rai, N.D. and C. Madegowda. 2017. Rethinking landscapes: history, culture and local knowledge in the Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve, India. In Bhagwat, S. (ed.). Conservation and development in India: reimagining wilderness. London: Routledge. Pp. 132-141.

Rai, N.D., T.A. Benjaminsen, S. Krishnan and C. Madegowda. 2019. Political ecology of tiger conservation in India: adverse effects of banning customary practices in a protected area. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 40(1): 124-139.

Raymond, C.M., M. Giusti and S. Barthel. 2017. An embodied perspective on the co-production of cultural ecosystem services: toward embodied ecosystems. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 61(5-6): 778-799.

Rice B.L. 1897. Mysore: a gazetteer compiled for government. Volume 2. Mysore, by Districts. Westminster: Archibald Constable and Company.

Redford, K. H. and W. M. Adams 2009. Payment for ecosystem services and the challenge of saving nature. Conservation Biology 23(4): 785-787.

Sen, A. and S. Pattnaik. 2017. How can traditional livelihoods find a place in contemporary conservation politics debates in India? Understanding community perspectives in Sundarban, West Bengal. Journal of Political Ecology 24(1): 861-880.

Taghioff, D. and A. Menon. 2010. Can a tiger change its stripes? The politics of conservation as translated in Mudumalai. Economic and Political Weekly 45(52): 69-76.

Verma, M., D. Negandhi, C. Khanna, A. Edgaonkar, A. David, G. Kadekodi, R. Costanza and R. Singh. 2015. Economic valuation of Tiger Reserves in India: a value + approach. Bhopal and New Delhi: Indian Institute of Forest Management and National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Verma, M. and D. Negandhi. 2018. Creating conservation value. Economic and Political Weekly 53(9): 4-5.

Verma, M., D. Negandhi, C. Khanna, A. Edgaonkar, A. David, G. Kadekodi, R. Costanza, R. Gopal, B.S. Bonal, S.P. Yadav and S. Kumar. 2017. Making the hidden visible: economic valuation of tiger reserves in India. Ecosystem Services 26: 236–244.

Walker, A. 2004. Seeing farmers for the trees: community forestry and the arborealisation of agriculture in northern Thailand. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 45(3): 311-324.

Wunder, S. 2005. Payments for environmental services: some nuts and bolts. Occasional Paper No. 42, Bogor Barat, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research.