Beyond Research: What’s your favourite contracts2.0 case study?

Beyond Research: What’s your favourite contracts2.0 case study?

Over the past 3.5 years, Contracts2.0 partners have worked on agri-environment-climate-measures in and with various regions and its stakeholders. Many valuable professional but also personal relationships have formed. Some of these unique regions, its people, products and measures are portrayed in these photographs, accompanied by their origin story. 

Vote for your favourite picture and story here! The poll is open until April!

 

The Small Heath

Germany © Picture: HiPP GmbH & Co. Vertrieb GmbH

The picture shows a Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) at HiPP’s model farm for biodiversity, the Ehrensberger Hof. Value chain approaches have great innovation potential: They have a strong bottom-up approach and can be adapted to the local situation in a targeted way. HiPP and many other organic food companies have been committed to respectful interaction with nature and natural resources for many years. They follow a multifaceted engagement for biodiversity and ecosystem services along their value chains.

Food production depends on numerous biodiversity and ecosystem services. One example is pollination services provided by insects. Insect biodiversity has declined severely in recent decades in Central Europe. For this reason, the HiPP company, in collaboration with the Bavarian State Collection for Zoology (ZSM) and the Bavarian Natural History Collections (SNSB), initiated a study to investigate the impact of organic and conventional farming on insect diversity.

This study was the first to quantitatively and qualitatively demonstrate the effects of different agricultural practices on biodiversity using molecular methods (cf. Hausmann et al., 2020). At HiPP’s model farm for biodiversity, the Ehrensberger Hof near Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, 260 % more insect biomass was detected compared to the conventional trial farm in 2018.

This shows the importance of promoting organic farming and other biodiversity measures as part of value chain approaches. Please visit the website for more details.

Text: Birte Bredemeier, LUH

Contract Innovation Lab Flanders 

Belgium © Boerennatuur Vlaanderen

Three pictures were created in our case study regions in Flanders, Belgium. In Voeren, a western part of Belgium (where the white cow unsuccessfully tries to escape the camera by hiding behind a tree) we aim to preserve the landscape, biodiversity, and agricultural values by including grasslands and woody elements.

Our CIL-case Koolstofboeren (carbon farming) aims to increase the organic matter content in soil by incorporating wood chips from landscape management in the soil, which has a positive effect on the soil structure, water infiltration, erosion control and soil biodiversity as can beautifully be seen in the two pictures showing the soil.

Castiglione di Garfagnana in Early Summer

Italy © Cinzia Lenzarini, Unione Comuni Garfagnana

This small and rare plain enclosed by mountains still offers a manicured and harmonious agricultural landscape, just as we would like our territory to continue to be. In the background, the Apuan foothills give an idea of the orographic complexity and great expanse of the forest, where Chestnut groves survive with centuries-old majestic plants, interspersed with small, ancient orchards rich in biodiversity.

To the right, the Omo Morto chain (Apuan Alps) which dominates the landscape, with its unmistakable silhouette of a sleeping giant.

In the field in the foreground, alternate horticultural species of local varieties now at risk of extinction such as the Nano di Verni corn, the Rossa di Sulcina potato, the Rossetto wheat, the Giallorino della Garfagnana bean, and finally the bales of hay, ready to feed the small flocks and herds of local breeds: white Garfagnina sheep and Garfagnina cow.

In this valley farmers are the custodians of an endangered animal and plant genetic heritage, which has survived the great social and economic changes. It has now fallen to us to capture its flavours, agronomic traditions, myths, and tales that have sprung from it.

In this snapshot we see much of the agricultural Garfagnana, rich in biodiversity and culture, sculpted by the strong identity and tenacity of its inhabitants. It is preserved by the will and passion of custodian farmers, suspended between abandonment and difficult enhancement and redevelopment of life in mountain and interior areas.

Gentian Caching

Hungary © Eszter Cibik, Őrség National Park

Here we are in a molinia meadow, in the Őrség national park. Every condition favours species-rich grassland: high annual rainfall and humidity, mild temperatures, soil moisture…
What other things are necessary for long-term nature conservation? Good relationship and communication with farmers. Results-based payment (RBP), as a planned contract type was discussed and chosen with local stakeholders, including farmers. RBP focuses on species-rich hay meadows in Őrség and some of the farmers take part of the testing.

In the picture, you can see a caught moment, when the farmer and me are monitoring the unmown parcel of the meadow. He was obliged not to cut 5% of the grassland in order to enhance seeding. The marsh gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe), one of our protected species, is a defined indicator, that scores in RBP. Bingo! We have just found several ones in blossom in the unmown area in that moment. Thus, we are on the right path to increase their numbers.

In the field visit, structure elements, plant and butterfly species are monitored – following an indicator check list. The butterfly net functions also as a modern shepherd’s crook as you can see. Farmers are usually surprized at first, then enthusiastic about counting butterflies.
Farmers are more positive towards AECMs, if they are part of the planning process. They are also willing to and capable of measuring indicators.

Fuenlabrada Agricultural Park

Spain © Inés Gutiérrez Briceño, UAM

Given the paradigms of global change, Fuenlabrada agricultural park was created to support peri-urban agriculture in the metropolitan region of Madrid. Despite the strong urban sprawl during the last decades, horticultural production has been maintained in the area. The agricultural park strengthens this production from an integral perspective and articulates actions based on the needs of the agricultural sector. The maintenance of this activity has also allowed the conservation of traditional varieties and the traditional agricultural practices associated with them, as is the case of the local Fuenlabrada chard.

The photo shows the mountainous area in the north of the region in the background, the city of Fuenlabrada nearby, and in the foreground one of the horticultural productions that make up the agricultural park. Among the chards, a strip of calendula flowers, can be seen, which is planted to attract beneficial insects for the orchard such as pest controllers or pollinating insects. In addition, these flower strips bring many other values, such as cultural and aesthetic values. Furthermore, by strengthening the multifunctional role of this activity and the restoration of the agricultural landscape, these areas are a space where it can be developed for environmental, sports and educational activities. These activities must be compatible with sustainable and local production, which will help to empower farmers who work there.

Will & Zac

England © Annabelle LePage, Natual England

Will is a hill farmer in the Yorkshire Dales. He has a commercial sheep and cattle enterprise based on hardy crossbreeds. He runs his upland farm alongside his brother, and their family have farmed in the valley for many years.

Will is also an active participant in the development of England’s innovative new agri-environment schemes. He was a member of the grassland results-based pilot, and is pictured here with sheepdog Zac in one of his best fields for breeding waders, in which he has seen around 70 curlews at once present in the spring.

In the background behind Will, Zac and their quad bike, we can see some of the excellent habitat qualities like the varied sward and plentiful tussocks which provide shelter for the birds. On the horizon, we can see the dramatic, rolling hills of the beautiful yet challenging Yorkshire Dales landscape in which these farmers provide so many benefits for natural and cultural heritage.

Will is an inspiring example of a hill farmer who is working well for both his own business, for the public, for other farmers and for nature.

Text: Jennifer Dodsworth

The Sunshine Island

Bornholm, Denmark © Louise Vercruysse (left) and Lisa Sharif (right)

One of contratcs2.0’s case study regions is the Danish Island of Bornholm. After the 2022 Consortium Meeting in Copenhagen a few colleagues visited this unique part of Europe. We spent a beautiful sunny day hiking along the coast, inspecting the landscape (we found an orchid!), watching birds, discussing our research, and even taking a dip in the clear cold sea.

The picture of the ocean, taken on an analogue camera by Louise Vercruysse, marks the start of our hike – the dinner plate full of exclusively local products the end of it.
It was a humbling full circle moment: to have spent the day walking through the region where farmers produce the foods on our plates and seeing the positive effects of their landscape management.

International research projects are no walk in the park (neither is hiking with Francis by the way), I learned that much very quickly. But today, it brought us here today, from all over Europe, brought us closer together as colleagues and friends. Let’s remember why it will be worth it: we are working on securing the possibility for future generations to take the same photographs as us on this day – of wonderful local food products, blooming landscapes, and clear water.

Text: Lisa Sharif, DBV

The Danish Jersey Cow

Bornholm, Denmark © Louise Vercruysse, INBO

We encountered these lovely cows during a day-long hike on the island of Bornholm – the Sunshine Island. It was late June, just after the Contracts meeting in Copenhagen, when some of the meeting attendees wanted to explore the natural surroundings where the Danish Contract Innovation Lab was situated, where sustainable grassland contracts were created.

Bornholm carries a fascinating history, as the island has been fought over for centuries. It used to be a Viking stronghold, and we saw some children on a school trip, dressed up as Vikings, as living remnants of that era. Bornholm belonged to Sweden for a while, before becoming Danish territory somewhere in the 17th century. During the second world war, the island was occupied by the Germans and bombed by the Russians. A lot of violence happened on the island. However, when walking the trails, one can only feel a strong sense of peace, being surrounded by the deep blue Baltic Sea and granite rocks. And this peace and joy is what we – humans anthropomorphizing everything – think to see in the faces of the cows we passed.

The Danish jersey cow, lounging in the shade with her new-born calf, seemed pleased. What must she think, overlooking the sea, likely never having touched the salty water? Does she see the humans walking the fields she’s grazing as belonging to a world separate from her, a culture opposed to a nature? Does she see her existence and the birth of her calf as being made possible by humans? Is she biodiversity, part of an environmentally friendly farming system, or quite the opposite, a burden?
Live and let live would be a part of the agriculture that Contracts2.0 aims to contribute to: co-designing contracts with practitioners to sustainably co-design farming systems with all human and non-human actors involved.

And so we continued our hike, finding ourselves a shady spot next to the water to take a rest.

We hope you enjoyed this small insight in our project and its regions and people!

We love them all, so we need you to GIVE YOUR VOTE to your favourite case study picture and story!
Combining collective agri-environmental contracts with a payments-by-results approach

Combining collective agri-environmental contracts with a payments-by-results approach

In his Master thesis, Max Sonntag analysed the potential for combining collective and payment-by-results elements for agri-environmental contracts, based on interviews with ten intermediaries from England. These intermediaries are facilitators of farmer groups who receive funding from the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF) for their work to align the management options of farmers on largely adjoining holdings.

The key research question of this study was “What are potential benefits and challenges of combining a collaborative payment for ecosystem services approach with results-based measures?” The particular focus was the role of the intermediary, here the facilitator of a Facilitation Fund group in England (see Practice Abstract 2 here).

Facilitators are responsible for bringing together a group of (at least four) farmers, covering at least 2,000 ha of (largely) adjoining land. They organise group meetings and farm walks, invite expert speakers and align the Countryside Stewardship management options that farmers enrol in. CSFF is technically not a collective contract, as the payment is transferred only to the facilitator. The degree to which the farmers collaborate depends on their individual engagement in the group. There tends to be less cooperation when there is a high proportion of pre-existing individual agri-environmental contracts within the group (Jones et al., 2020, p. 65) as farmers cannot change their contracts before the agreed end date.

Facilitators in this study worked with groups in the regions where the Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBAPS) pilot in Northern England (Wensleydale) and East Anglia (Norfolk and Suffolk) was implemented. Therefore, they had an awareness of what a results-based approach could entail, and some farmers in these areas had made positive experiences with the pilots (more information). 

Combination is promising…

In general, facilitators thought that a combination of collective and results-based elements was a good idea and would work well. Five interviewees commented that the Facilitation Fund groups could be used as a platform by farmers to exchange and share knowledge on how to achieve results, and farmers in the group could more easily be trained to undertake self-assessments of results achieved. Alternatively, the facilitator would be on hand to help with the assessment of their plots. Three interviewees stated the result-based approach could enhance friendly competition among members, and access to results-based payment options could encourage more farmers to join the group. There was also the view that farmers who are members of Facilitation Fund groups already demonstrated an interest in learning and innovation regarding environmental activities and therefore would likely be keen to explore result-based options.

…but are there enough trained facilitators? 

Facilitators stressed that results-based payment are not suitable for every case. Indicators needed to be carefully chosen to ensure they are reliable and do not result in a high administrative workload for the farmers, and results-based payments needed to be coupled with a base payment (e.g. via an action-based measure) to reduce the risk to farmers. Current facilitation fund facilitators were seen to be well placed to work with groups to expand into result-based schemes. However, some interviewees had doubts whether there are enough facilitators with the right skills available to be able to advise farmer groups on results monitoring and effective group work at the same time. This suggested additional training for facilitators would need to be made available if such a combination of approaches was to be rolled out.

Onerous paperwork is a barrier 

Interviewees had concerns about the amount of paperwork. Five facilitators already perceived the administrative work related to the Facilitation Fund as onerous, and were weary of an increase if a results-based approach added to this load. In addition, many Facilitation Fund groups currently have no monitoring activities in place, neither with regard to the outcomes of their agri-environmental management, nor the success and social capital of the group as a whole (Prager, 2022). This lack of experience may be a particular hurdle for setting up a result-based approach and the related assessment and reporting activities.

In a scenario of combined collective and result-based elements, a majority of the interviewed facilitators believe that assessing results of management activities, helping with monitoring and providing 1-to-1 advice would be a key aspect of their new role. Others felt their role would not change much: they would continue to facilitate the group’s work as a neutral third party, organise training and help with spatial targeting.

Facilitator role is similarly important in other countries

In conclusion, facilitators have an important role in supporting farmer groups in environmental management. This is in line with observations from other agri-environment climate schemes, such as the Dutch national collective scheme (Berner, 2021), or the result-based Burren Programme in Ireland (Nietzschmann, 2021, Master thesis, more information), where facilitators are involved in multiple roles. These include, for instance enabling communication and coordination among participating famers, offer advice and extension services, assist with the spatial targeting of measures to the most suitable areas in the landscape, join in the monitoring activities, or re-distribute and administer payments to farmers received from the government.

Facilitators view a combination of collective and results-based approaches favourably and most are ready to embrace the challenge of this innovation. Nevertheless, a number of design and administrative challenges remain to be tackled.

 

To cite: Sonntag, M. (2021): Combining a collaborative PES approach with a payments-by-results approach in England: Process Net-Map interviews with Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund’s intermediaries. Master thesis in Integrated Natural Resource Management at Humboldt University Berlin, December 2021.

Supervision: Claudia Sattler (ZALF) & Martin Scheele (HU)

Blogpost written by: Katrin Prager & Claudia Sattler 

Pictures: Jennifer Dodsworth & Katrin Prager (taken at a contracts2.0 stakeholer workshop in Ireland)

Farmers’ Perceptions of Payment by Results scheme in UK

Farmers’ Perceptions of Payment by Results scheme in UK

Earlier this year, researchers from the UK ‘Contracts2.0’ team spent some time working with Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s Pilot Results Based Agri-environment Payment Scheme (RBAPS) to study farmers’ perceptions of this results-based pilot project. Another focus of the joint study was to identify the changes to the management practices as well as the habitat quality of the farmland resulting from the participation in this results-based scheme.

 We found that farmers had very positive experiences of the payments by results scheme and, overall, habitat quality was at a comparable level to control sites in conventional agri-environmental agreements. This can be seen as a success considering the relatively short timescale of the project and the additional empowerment of farmers within PBR approaches. Interestingly, many farmers chose to maintain many of their existing management practices, rather than aim to improve the habitat quality as we might expect in a results-based system. Farmers recognised a relationship between their existing habitat quality and the cultural & environmental heritage of the landscape, where unique elements of the area such as ancient flower meadows resulted in sufficient payments. Farmers also noted some important factors outside of their control which impacted management, from the weather conditions to the valuable advice and support received from local project officers.

Our report was submitted to the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, as a part of the supplementary evidence relating to the ongoing RBAPS trial and development of the new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) in England.

Project Outline

We conducted detailed interviews with farmers involved in the RBAPS pilot in January 2021. The interviews lasted on average for approximately 1 hour 30 minutes, with the shortest interview being just over 1 hour and the longest being 2 hours and 30 minutes. The interviews took place either online via video call (on Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or WhatsApp) or over the telephone. To ‘map’ the farmers’ land management timelines and to compare any changes to management before and during the pilot, we used an interactive online platform called Mural to show farmers the timeline as we were making it. The RBAPS pilot in Wensleydale and Coverdale is focused on Grassland habitats for breeding waders and species rich hay meadows. The upland environments of many of England’s National Parks, and across the UK’s CIL area in the Contracts project, are in many ways ideal landscapes for the delivery of these types of environmental public goods, alongside numerous others.

Figure: Example of a Land Management Timeline made during the interview on Mural

Land Management Approaches in Results-Based Schemes

Motivations and Objectives in Results-based Approaches

One of the most important factors we identified through our in-depth interviews was a distinction between farmers who aim to ‘improve’ habitat quality and those who aim to ‘maintain’ it through results-based schemes. This distinction between ‘improvers’ and ‘maintainers’ appeared both in terms of motives for habitat quality and the management strategies the farmers employed. The objective of maintaining habitat quality might appear to run counter to the conventional assumption in results-based approaches that farmers will be incentivised to ‘do more to get more’. Though initially surprising, farmers explained that their reasoning for maintaining habitats were many-sided and varied from the short-term scope of the pilot to the existing relatively high standard of their habitats, detailed further below. 

Figure: Tracing Farmers’ Land Management Goals in PBR

Environmental Heritage in Protected Areas

Where we found that many farmers were content to maintain the quality of the habitats that they already had, several farmers said that some long-existing cultural environmental features of these habitats, which are unique to protected landscapes, were reasons for their existing good standard. So, where farmers have sought to maintain existing habitats, alongside pragmatic factors of management, they also emphasised the already high-value heritage features of their habitats. These include features more common in National Landscapes, such as

  • long-existing uncultivated hay meadows with rare and ancient seeds,
  • local & traditional land and animal management practices such as making small hay bales
  • locally unique cultural and environmental landscape features such as hay barns

To illustrate, hay barns, for example, are not only highly valued by tourists as beautiful, picturesque features of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, they also hold an important traditional role in practices of small hay bale making, as they enable farmers to house the hay close to the place it was made and where it will be needed for livestock in winter months. Furthermore, this process is one of the most environmentally friendly practices of producing storable forage: the ‘tedding’ (or drying process) redisperses seeds across the meadow. Traditional small bale hay making also avoids issues of soil compaction, where larger bales necessitate heavier machinery, and remove the use of plastic, which is needed to wrap grass for fermentation in silage or haylage production. Therefore, we can see that many of these ‘environmental heritage’ features have both environmentally and culturally valuable qualities which are unique to England’s protected landscapes. 

 

Figure: Hay Barns in Wensleydale (Image © James LePage)

Administration and Support in a Results-Based Pilot

Another factor which was universally identified by farmers as a huge benefit of the results-based approach was the scheme administration. Beyond the highly valued simplicity and flexibility offered by results-based contracts (in contrast to the demanding and complicated paperwork of England’s existing action-based schemes) farmers also emphasised the key role that the National Park Authority (NPA) officers played in scheme support and delivery. Farmers highlighted that the role of the NPA’s local officers in scheme design, information provision, training, and dialogue was fundamental to scheme uptake and success. For the broader developments of results-based schemes, local or regional organisations such as NPAs are, in many ways, well placed to be important intermediary facilitating bodies for these roles.

Issues out of their control: Adverse weather

Farmers also emphasised their habitats’ vulnerability to the impact of the weather, including extreme flooding or conversely, unexpected dry spells. Almost all the farmers made several comments about the negative effect of the weather, particularly when this was combined with differing assessment timings, upon their habitat scores. This vulnerability has important consequences for ‘pure’ results-based schemes, and indicates that ‘hybrid’ schemes, which combine results and action-based, might help to reduce some of the risk to farmers from issues outside of their control.

Disseminating our results

Following our interviews and analysis, we complied a detailed report which was submitted to DEFRA alongside Natural England’s main summary of the Pilot to date. We were also delighted to present some of our recent research into participant farmers’ opinions on payments by results as a part of a national conference ‘Farming with Nature’. This conference, convened by the University of Cumbria, aimed to explore how nature can be delivered within our farmed ‘National Landscapes’, namely England’s main protected areas such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). This approach was a key recommendation from the Landscapes Review.

Future Directions for Wensleydale RBAPS

The pilot is currently running under another extension funded by DEFRA and is exploring alongside the participating farmers how future schemes might work better: Either as ‘hybrid’ schemes which combine elements of action and results-based approaches, or at varying scales which might plan agreements at farm or even landscape levels, rather than individual field parcels.

For more information read our full report regarding Farmers’ Experiences of Results-based contracts in Wensleydale or contact me at Jennifer.dodsworth@abdn.ac.uk or @JennyferDods on Twitter.

Featured Image:  © James LePage

Implementing innovative contract models – results from the Policy Delphi

Implementing innovative contract models – results from the Policy Delphi

The second round of our online Policy Delphi study – focusing on opportunities to implement innovative contract models in the current policy arena – was closed during the summer, and the first results are just fresh out of the oven.

A key characteristic of the Delphi method is that it runs in several consecutive rounds. This allows the researchers to use the findings from the preceding rounds to design questions in the forthcoming rounds. This allows to dig a little deeper into the most exciting (often controversial) topics, which is exactly what happened in Contracts2.0. The results of our first Delphi round were analysed to identify converging and contested topics, which were then turned into questions and statements to test in the second round of the survey. 32 experts from 15 European countries participated in the second round, with almost half of them indicated to have direct policy experience at national or subnational level.

Based on the answers from the first round on how the ideal contract would look like to incentivize farmers for more sustainable farming we could synthesize three prototypes: a) a mixed contract combining action-based and result-based elements, signed bi-laterally between farmers and funding agencies for a medium duration (5-7 years); b) a result-based contract, signed between a group of farmers (collective) and the funding agency, with flexible duration (from short to medium or long term); and c) a value-chain contract, signed between farmers and other actors of the value chain (e.g. food processors, retailers, certifiers), which builds on an existing AECM contract and provides a price premium for more sustainable products. As the figure (above) suggests, the majority of the respondents would choose a mixed, action- and results-based contract for an European level contract prototype, but still almost one-quarter of the respondents would suggest alternative contracts, mainly ones which offer more flexibility to choose collective (landscape-level) agreements or different contract lengths from shorter to longer term.

We also asked what the best way is to implement these novel contracts, and there seems to be an agreement about agri-environmental-and climate measures still being the main target area, where innovative contract characteristics can be implemented as top-ups or additional payments to more mainstream conventional (i.e. action-based) contracts. In terms of funding novel contracts through the Common Agricultural Policy, responding experts underlined the outstanding importance of the Pillar 2 payments. Within Pillar 2 policy instruments, almost 70% of the participants pointed to agri-environmental and climate measures, while voluntary interventions in Pillar 2 for investment, knowledge exchange and cooperation, as well as for ecological constraints were listed by 34.5%. Eco-schemes, which is a part of the new green architecture affiliated with the Pillar 1 payments, were also mentioned by 34.5% of the respondents – with this proportion, eco-schemes seem to be the most promising instrument within Pillar 1 with a considerable potential to integrate innovative contracts.

As we learned from the first round of the Delphi study, available budget is a strong constraint for implementing innovative contracts (beside others, like increased transaction costs or higher uncertainties). Financially supporting environmentally friendly farming through different instruments of the CAP, as suggested by the findings shared above, can be a strategy to alleviate the budget burden. However, it raises further questions such as additionality and potential double-payments received for the same result from different schemes. Fostering coherence within the CAP and between the CAP and other policy areas is a key step forward and will also be a focal topic of the third round of our Delphi study.

written by Eszter Kelemen & Boldizsár Megyesi (ESSRG)

 For more information see the Report of the 2nd Round of the Delphi Study.

For infos on tools and techniques for initiating a policy dialogue on innovative approaches check our Practice Abstracts no. 10

Practitioners picture desirable farming landscapes for 2040 – Future Dream Contracts

Practitioners picture desirable farming landscapes for 2040 – Future Dream 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