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Sowing the seeds of viable agriculture

A team of European researchers assessed the design and implementation of various schemes originally set up to reconcile modern agricultural practices and environmental needs. They developed a framework from which a review of the elements of these schemes was used to support new policy recommendations.

Climate Change and Environment

Agricultural activities supporting wildlife, landscape development, organic recycling, biodiversity and other amenities used to be in harmony with rural surroundings. That gradually changed with advent of fertilisers, production mechanisation, intensified land exploitation and augmented farm sizes. Consequently, today's activities seriously affect the quality of water, soil and air, as well as the landscape and nature in general. As the social focus increasingly demands rehabilitation and protection for wildlife, regulation of agricultural activities have come to the forefront in the form of agri-environmental schemes (AESs) looking to restore the balance between using the land and protecting it. The 'Integrated tools to design and implement agro environmental schemes' (ITAES) project developed a framework to assess the various elements of these schemes and evaluate alternative AESs. Using an information matrix, project partners focused on the development of operational objectives within AESs and measured their effects, efficiency, income distribution and legitimacy as a means of evaluating government intervention taken to promote sustainable agriculture. The project framework was developed to facilitate determination of criteria for policy analyses and identification of design principles for viable schemes. These included techniques to reduce hidden information and hidden actions or shirking, enhancing mutual commitment through monitoring, and boosting the reputation and credibility of the authorities as well as the farmers. Four criteria formed the base of the extended policy analysis: AES uptake, environmental effectiveness, efficiency of transaction costs, and impacts on farmers' income. The framework also allowed for examination of AES components such as coordination, participation, effectiveness, flexibility and potential for exploiting design principles to minimise contractual failures. The evaluation of 10 case studies from different locations and varying area coverage determined the main environmental pressures to be soil erosion, water pollution and loss of biodiversity. The ITAES project review, assessment and comparison activities resulted in the formulation of a number of recommendations offered to policymakers for the increased viability of such schemes.

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