Agriculture and Environment: the New Challenge

Project location: ITALY, Various
Project start date: February 2001 - Project end date: January 2007
Project number: 2000-04
Beneficiary: IUCN European Regional Office

The AEMBAC project has defined a common European analytical framework for the development of local agri-environmental programmes for biodiversity and landscape conservation. The framework developed has been tested in 15 studies areas in 7 different European Countries.

This result has been achieved by carrying out the project in three main phases:

Phase 1: Definition of a methodology to assess the impacts exerted by agricultural pressures on the local environment:
Phase 2: Definition of a methodology to develop Agri-environmental measures at local level
Phase 3: Definition of a methodology to implement the Agri-environmental measures developed

Phase 1
has identified the performance of environmental functions (e.g. related to biodiversity and landscape conservation) in different local agricultural systems, in the 15 study areas of 7 countries participating in the project.
This has involved analysing the capacity of agri-ecosystems to perform selected environmental functions (i.e. biodiversity and landscape conservation, soil erosion and water run off related functions) through the use of a driving forces-pressures-state-impacts-responses model (DPSIR). The most important ecological aspects for the performance of environmental functions have been identified by state indicators, measuring, for instance, species diversity and composition, landscape features, soil fertility and water quality. For each state indicator identified, the respective Environmental Minimum Requirement (EMR) value to be matched in order to achieve the Environmental function performance was assessed. By looking at the gaps between actual values of state indicators and their corresponding EMR, positive or negative impacts on the performance of the environmental functions were identified. Ecological, economic and social aspects of agricultural systems have been then analysed and most important pressures on the environment and relative driving forces identified (e.g. pesticide and fertiliser application, land use and cultivation practices, etc).

Phase 2
has built on the outcomes of the first phase. Starting from the analysis and identification of causality relationships between detected impacts on environmental functions performances and locally most relevant agricultural pressures, the research has focussed on developing an operational tool, capable of building a bridge between science and policy. Possible recommendations on adjusting agricultural pressures in order to overcome negative impacts and enhancing positive ones have been studied and ranked in Tiers of sustainability on respect of environmental function performances. The agri-environmental impacts resulting from the analysis carried out in Phase 1 have been translated into economic terms and externalities have been identified. Also the envisaged costs on the eventual implementation of proposed recommendations have been assessed. This information, coupled with studying the most relevant local socio-economic aspects, enabled the identification of agri-environmental policy targets tailored to local conditions, and the development of suitable agri-environmental policy instruments to achieve the targets. These policy instruments have included regulatory and/or market based tools that can be used for both the supply of environmental goods and services by farmers and the abandonment of unsustainable agricultural practices.
Whereas it was appropriate, depending on the local ecological and socio-economic aspects, detailed agri-environmental measures based on a quasi-market approach have been developed and compared with already existing programmes in the study areas. The understanding of the agri-environmental measures proposed by stakeholders, namely local farmers and administrators, and the feasibility of eventual implementation, have also been assessed. The procedures for reporting (by farmers) the correct implementation of the Agri-Environmental Measures (AEMs). A study on the impact of EU enlargement on biodiversity and landscape conservation within the agricultural sector has been carried out in the countries concerned (Estonia and Hungary), but it has not been included in this report concerning the analytical framework to develop local agri-environmental measures (see ENVIST and UD-CEMP reports).

Phase 3
has been built on the first two phases. In this phase the procedures and indicators for monitoring the effectiveness and efficiency of agri-environmental measures developed have been identified.
An analysis of administrative and transaction costs (for administrators and farmers) has also been carried out in this phase. Finally, the overall economic and financial aspects of the eventual implementation of the agri-environmental measures proposed have been considered.
In defining the common European analytical framework, the work carried out has allowed to identify scientific topics where further research will have to be carried out in order to enhance the scientific basis of the results achieved. The most important topics are the following:

  • Integration of different scales of analysis (field, farm, agri-ecosystem, region) and of socio-economic data with environmental data (e.g. ecological and administrative boundaries, FADN);
  • Validation of EMR and of dose-effect relationships between pressures and impacts by field research (e.g. Ecosystems functioning and resilience); and
  • Integration of ecological thresholds in economic evaluations and valuation of environmental benefits (e.g. consequences of irreversible ecological situations).

The framework and the tools provided by AEMBAC can contribute to the development of a coherent, scientifically sound and transparent European agri-environmental policy taking into account the specific differences at the local level. The results obtained from the testing of the analytical framework defined in 15 study areas in 7 countries, show that the analytical framework for the development of local agri-environmental programmes is very promising in its foreseeable practical implementation and that it can be applied to very different ecological, economic, social, etc. situations.

Benefits and Beneficiaries:
The AEMBAC methodology is based on the idea of a knowledge driven Agro-environmental policy and Sustainable Rural Development and will contribute to the integration of scientific results into policy development both at local and European levels.

The results of the project at the local level can contribute to:

  • The selection of scientifically based suitable indicators to analyse and measure the supply of environmental goods and services by agriculture;
  • Clear distinction between ecological sustainability in agriculture (i.e. respect of EMR) and realistically achievable results for the short term considering socio-economic aspects (i.e. agri-environmental policy targets);
  • More precise ecological, economic and social information to make trade-offs between different rural development objectives (e.g. scientific based definition of "good farming practices" at local level, clearer definition of risks and uncertainties with regard to unsustainable agricultural practices);
  • A more effective monitoring of impacts on the environment and consequently a better evaluation of AEM effectiveness and efficiency; and
  • Devolution to local farmers and administrators of the fine-tuning of policy measures in local agriculture, thereby creating an "evaluation culture".

The AEMBAC project at European level can contribute to:

  • The development of dynamic programmes for agricultural sustainability and conservation of European biodiversity and landscapes;
  • The enhancement of transparency and a wider application of the subsidiary principle in managing agri-environment programmes;
  • The increase of environmental awareness amongst EU citizens;
  • The diversification of rural economies by enhancing the provision of environmental goods and services;
  • A smooth transition from compensation payments coupled to production to a more socially acceptable agri-environmental payments for supply of environmental goods and services; and
  • Provision of scientific support to the concept of multifunctionality in agriculture (e.g. in relevant international fora such as WTO) by measuring the real supply of environmental goods and services.

The results coming out from the AEMBAC project will clearly be of use to EU institutions, Member States, Regional and local administrations, Universities, Farmers' organisations, Environmental organisations, Rural Development Planners, etc.

think global, act local
you are here: Home  > Projects:  Environmental conservation or Europe  (or Both)  > 2000-04  > 2001 Project Description