Practitioners picture desirable farming landscapes for 2040 and ideal agri-environmental contracts

Practitioners picture desirable farming landscapes for 2040 and ideal agri-environmental contracts

“How do agricultural practitioners envision desirable farming landscapes and ideal agri-environmental contracts?” In a detailed report, we collect and present answers to this question. We found that practitioners across Europe envision farming landscapes shaped by viable agricultural practices that strengthen and enhance ecosystem services. It is important that actors in the farming systems share the same values, cooperate and mutually recognise each other’s expertise to make the shared vision a reality. The social setting turned out the most critical change driver, followed by the legal and political framework and land use and environmental conditions. In this post, we share some of our key findings to illustrate what practitioners believe is necessary to unite the socio-economic viability of farming with the production of agri-environmental public goods in our farming landscapes.

Developing desired landscapes and dream contracts

To answer our initial question, we carried out 28 workshops and consultations in 13 Contract Innovation Labs (CILs) in nine countries across Europe, with a total of 354 participants over the past year. With farmers, environmental NGOs, nature associations, researchers, agricultural advisors and public administrations, we envisioned dream farming landscapes and ideal agri-environmental contracts to facilitate the sustainable transformation of the farming system (see Figure 1). This approach is based on the potential of positive future visions to stimulate sustainable change within the farming system in a participatory way.

 

Figure 1. Steps from dream contract development to implementation.

Based on key information provided by stakeholders from each CIL we analysed case-specific situations and problems using swot analysis. We then asked CIL participants to picture a desirable future dream landscape in the year 2040. We encouraged participants to prepare lists of enabling and limiting factors for realising the dream landscape. Finally, we asked them to envision agri-environmental contracts that would facilitate transformation toward the desired state. The participants reflected the contracts from different perspectives such as environmental effectiveness, socio-economic viability, duration and monitoring. Lastly, we developed dream contract trajectories – paths to reach the envisioned state.

Common dream landscape patterns

Based on short descriptions the CILs prepared of the dream landscape, we singled out 99 diverse dream landscape elements, which we clustered into eight landscape building blocks: viable and sustainable agriculture, regulating ecosystem services, social cohesion, biodiversity, multifunctionality, enabling landscape managers, health and wellbeing, and cultural ecosystem services. We ordered these building blocks into four almost-equally weighted categories: multifunctionality, agriculture-related topics, environmental-related topics and social context.

The category multifunctionality is relatively broad and refers to the simultaneous provision of different goods and services of the landscape or through agricultural activities. In the category of agriculture-related topics, the most common landscape element is viable and sustainable agriculture. Viable and sustainable agriculture should be profitable, provide opportunities for new generations of farmers, generate and process quality local produce, apply sustainable farming practices, use and produce renewable energy and optimise livestock production. The category of environmental-related topics includes the landscape elements regulating ecosystem services and biodiversity. Social context consists of the elements social cohesion, health and well-being and cultural ecosystem services. Social cohesion is an essential element indicating the importance of cooperation, shared values, the connection between communities and the landscape, and vibrant rural living (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Representation of the dream farming landscape in CIL Oost-Gronningen. Several dream landscape patterns are illustrated.

Enabling and limiting drivers of change for the dream landscape

Change drivers are natural or human-induced factors that directly or indirectly trigger a change in an ecosystem. Direct drivers, such as habitat conversion and climate change, are pressures that directly affect ecosystem processed. Drivers that operate at a more diffuse level are indirect change drivers, such as socio-political, economic and technological factors.

In total, we identified 130 change drivers in our case studies that we assigned to five themes: social impact, legal policy and political context, land use and environmental impact, agro management viability and economic viability (see Figure 3). Across all cases enabling (N=62) and limiting (N=68) drivers are almost balanced. However, each case has a unique profile, which influences the likelihood of achieving the desired dream landscape. The most common them is social impact. It includes enabling drivers such as increased consumer demand, farmers’ intrinsic motivation and cooperation amongst farmers. The limiting drivers within this theme were a lack of trust and awareness.

 

 

Figure 3. Distribution of change drivers in five themes.

Unlike the three other themes, social impact as well as land use and environmental impact are described mainly by enabling drivers, meaning they are major building blocks for the dream farming landscapes. The limiting drivers are mostly related to economic viability (e.g., market fluctuations), the policy context (e.g., the uncertainty of current and future CAP developments) and agro management viability (e.g., uncertainty on the effects of farming practices) (Figure 4).

 

Figure 4. Limiting and enabling factors across themes.

Dream contracts for dream landscapes

Each CIL developed one or several dream contracts. These dream contracts are legal conduits to strike a balance between farmers’ or land managers’ economic interests and societies’ interests for the provision of environmental public goods and services. We analysed them for general characteristics, benefits, involved actors, payments and monitoring.

General contract characteristics include the targeted land use and contract length. Dream contracts targeted diverse land-use types such as grassland (N=12), arable crops (N=10) and permanent crops (N=7). Often, a contract combines several of these land-use types. The ideal contract length in most CILs ranges from five to ten years.

The dream contracts envision a wide range of benefits that go well beyond mere financial compensations for farmers (Figure 5). Overall, we identified 96 benefits that mostly help either society or farmers.

Figure 5. Envisioned dream contract benefits.

We split the financial benefits for farmers into indirect and direct monetary benefits. Direct monetary benefits include income support, cost savings and product added value.

All cases reported the involvement of one or more intermediary organisations. In eleven out of thirteen cases, a farmer group plays a crucial role to broker knowledge, manage payments, coordinate measures, carry out monitoring and build social cohesion.

In eight out of thirteen cases, funding is envisioned to come from the public sector, for example through agri-environment and climate schemes. Two cases aim for private funding and three cases envision a mix of private and public funding. Generally, we observe great interest for collective and results-based approaches, value-chain contracts and combinations thereof. Six out of thirteen cases like to experiment with combining contracts that include action-based and results-based features.

Almost all dream contracts envision that monitoring is carried out in results-based schemes and action-based schemes. We see a strong willingness from practitioners to be involved in monitoring.

Our results in the greater context

We do not claim that our results represent the whole farming community in Europe as they are entirely based on the perceptions of the participants in our 13 CILs, some of whom participated in several workshops. Furthermore, most participants are already engaged in contracts and are interested in reconciling farmer objectives with societal needs for agri-environmental public goods. Nevertheless, our results give interesting insights into practitioners’ perceptions about desirable changes in present agri-environmental contracts. Practitioners are keen to contribute to societal benefits, experiment with novel contract designs, and play a more active role in designing and monitoring agri-environmental contracts. These findings can support  the design of innovative Agri-environmental contracts and the corresonding policies and Strategic Plans within the New Delivery Model.

To learn more about our findings click HERE.

To learn more about each CIL’s dream landscape and dream contract follow these links:

  1. Limburg – Netherlands
  2. Groningen – Netherlands
  3. Koolstofboeren – Belgium
  4. Gulpdal – Belgium
  5. Northwest England – UK
  6. Hautes Pyrenees – France
  7. Madrid Region – Spain
  8. Bornholm – Denmark
  9. Agora Natura – Germany
  10. Hipp – Germany
  11. North Rhine Westphalia – Germany
  12. Örseg National Park – Hungary
  13. Unione Comuni Garfagnana – Italy

Written by Sven Defrijn (Boerennatuur Vlaanderen), Marina Garcia Llorente (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), Edward Ott (Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research), Photo Title: © Illiya Vjestica on Unsplash

Exploring feasibility of novel approaches  – A Delphi study

Exploring feasibility of novel approaches – A Delphi study

The team from ESSRG, overseeing the policy work package in Contracts2.0, conducted a Delphi-survey to highlight limitations of the current agri-environmental schemes as well as to gauge the perception of innovative approaches for the delivery of public goods amongst policy makers, farmers/advisors, researchers and NGO’s across Europe.

The Delphi method is based on structured expert surveys and draws on experiences and knowledge of the participants in form of empirical, predictive and normative aspects. Its core concept is to facilitate discussions and develop consensual ideas among participants via several correlated rounds allowing experts to reconsider their opinion in each round.

It is planned to run altogether three rounds of the Delphi survey, to assess the knowledge base and to stimulate a discussion regarding the adoption of innovative contractual solutions for a farmer- and eco -friendly agriculture. The first round of the survey, conducted in March/April 2021, was completed by 41 stakeholders form 17 European countries. The aim was to first depict the limitations of current agri-environmental schemes, followed by an assessment of the knowledge base and experiences regarding the four novel approaches being at the heart of contracts2.0: results-based payments, collective action as well as value chain and land tenure approaches. In the following some of the results are summarized:

Limitations of the current schemes are evident

Regarding the limitations the results suggest, that financial (e.g. transaction cost, compensation vs. reward) and institutional (e.g. bureaucracy, lack of flexibility) factors are the most relevant. But knowledge-related aspects (e.g. lack of robust scientific evidence, limited access to advisory services) as well as the need for improved monitoring and regional differentiation were also mentioned as hindering an effective implementation of agri-environmental measures.

Results- vs. action-based payments

Concerning the innovative approaches, results-based payments were perceived as potentially (highly) effective in achieving the ecological objectives (especially biodiversity related) due to the agreement of clear and measurable outcomes. Respondents highlighted that rewarding farmers for their environmental performance (instead of compensating for their lost income or increased costs) contributes to the attractiveness of this approach. While the increased flexibility and autonomy for farmers are additional advantages, issues like monitoring (e.g. definition of robust indicators, use of IT or farmers expertise to bring down cost) and risk mitigation (uncertainty due to external factors) still pose a challenge and need some further attention when refining/adapting this approach. Many respondents state that setting up such schemes would require initially large investments (management, monitoring, trainings), which might serve as a barrier for the adoption. As a potential middle ground some experts suggest a combination of results-based payment as a bonus on top of an action-based implementation to reward more ambitious efforts.

Collective Action

Many respondents agreed that the collective approach (or group contracts) can effectively deliver on the (mostly biodiversity related) objectives when adequate ecological expertise is involved. The main argument in favor of cooperation is the positive effect on the connectivity of habitats through a coordinated management of suitable measures on landscape scale. The decreased (real or perceived) transaction cost on the farmers’ side is another advantage. While some respondents argue a long-lived tradition with cooperation amongst farmers helps to succeed when collectively implementing measures, others highlight the importance of a feeling of trust within a collective and/or contractual elements for regulating individual behavior being the key factors for success. Regarding the transaction cost of the collective approach respondents acknowledge a shift from public transaction cost (administrations) to the private sector (mainly the collective itself or their management respectively).

Value chain approach

The value chain approach is well received by most respondents, since it seems well suited to reward farmers for their environmental performance, independently from public funding. The generation of income through an adequate market price is also more in line with farmers’ business logic (instead of relying on public funds). This approach seems to work well with shorter value chains and a more regionalized marketing, while large retailers do often not engage so easily in such programs. A key factor of this approach is the labeling of the extra effort to simplify the decision to purchase for the environmentally conscious customers. Given the already large variety of labels, special attention needs to be paid to a transparent and clear communication of the environmental performance throughout the value chain. Respondents recognize no significant (institutional, cultural or social) barriers to implement this approach, however it is perceived to require an extensive infrastructure and a broad knowledge base.

Land tenure contracts

The Land tenure approach is the one with the most uncertainty among the respondents, possibly due to a potential lack of experience with this type of contract. It could be a well-suited approach for large landowners, especially when intermediaries (National Parks, Church, NGO’s) are involved. The comparatively longer contract periods of land-tenure approaches not only contributes to the environmental effectiveness but also benefits the farmer by provided a sound and predictable financial base, where uncertainty and risks are comparatively low.

How does the ideal contract look like?

The last block of the survey addressed the question of the ideal contract. Interestingly the (assumed) most effective type of contracts across all respondents were by far the publicly funded agri-environmental scheme (AES). Regarding the characteristics of a contract the opinions differ a bit more. Bi-laterally agreed and publicly funded contracts with a flexible length and a mix of results- and action-based payments earned the highest approval rate. Although the results of this survey are far from being representative, the glimpse into the minds of different stakeholder groups involved with the discussion of agricultural policy issues, has provided us with some valuable insights. Especially the open-ended questions have generated a rich pool of ideas, to guide us on our path towards the development of contractual solutions that benefit farmers and nature. The third and last round of the Delphi will be completed in September 2021.

For a more detailed and comprehensive interpretation of the results check out this report.

Figure 2. Differences of the characteristics of the ideal contract according to the background of the respondents. Source: own compilation based on the 1st round of the Delphi survey.