Forest and landscape restoration (FLR) is a powerful strategy for large-scale tropical forest recovery, and payment for ecosystem services (PES) is used to support FLR programs and projects on privately-owned land. In this article, we discuss the lessons learned from the Water Producer Project, a pioneer, multiple-stakeholder, and PES-supported FLR project in the Atlantic Forest, south-eastern Brazil. The project was implemented in four landscapes located in two municipalities. Altogether, 41 PES contracts with landowners were signed, resulting in various FLR practices being implemented in a total of 342.4 ha (64.2 ha for riparian forest restoration, 90.8 ha for soil conservation, and 187.4 for forest conservation) of land, which represents 39% of the project goal. As of the end of the project, only 50% (USD 49,250) of the available PES funds had been spent. However, funds spent on project planning, implementation, communication, and monitoring were 12 times greater than those spent on PES. Several challenges restricted the progress and monitoring of the project. The main issue was landowner participation and/or engagement. In terms of lessons learned, we highlight that PES schemes are more complex than initially thought, and that sufficient funding does not guarantee the success of FLR projects. It is essential to promote landowner participation and engagement by considering them key players in FLR projects. Finally, acceptance from landowners was higher and implementation was easier for forest conservation practices that required no land-use changes. Thus, we suggest that similar future projects should focus on targeting private properties in marginal agricultural lands with a high probability of natural regeneration. Alternatively, future projects could focus on lands with remnant forest cover of high conservation value.
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