March 25, 2013

The Multifunctional Landscapes Roadshow

By David King, Head of International Relations at the French Agricultural Society (SAF)

As last week concluded with both a day to celebrate forests and another to celebrate water, it is clear that landscape approaches within agricultural systems can provide the suite of services and functions needed for healthy ecosystems and healthy people. While forests and trees are important components of landscapes, and will be explored further in subsequent posts, it is also critically important to manage landscapes as a package, for multiple functions. Today’s Blog post offers a glimpse into a new initiative in the European Union, the Multifunctional Landscapes Roadshow, which provides a platform for stakeholders to share and discuss ideas of how agricultural landscapes can maintain natural capital and ecosystem services. 

The core principle of the Landscapes Initiative and Blog, “landscapes for people, food and nature,” can be found mainstreamed into the ongoing discussions to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union. Europe calls this element greening’. It responds to the concern that, in addition to a tripling of agricultural output over the last 30 years, Europe’s ecosystems have also weakened.

The ‘greening’ proposals of the CAP reform shift the focus of support from farmers to land use. There is broad support in Brussels for this policy target. However, there is considerable argument over the way it should be implemented.

The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament generally wants ‘greening’ measures to be phased in over the 7 years of the new policy, from 2014 to 2020. It also wants recognition for the greening measures that farmers have already implemented. In contrast, the EU Environment Commissioner and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety of the European Parliament see ‘greening’ as a Treaty obligation. – with almost 40% of the EU budget spent on agriculture, it needs to produce ‘public environmental goods’ to be credible.

Europe will not turn back from the ‘greening’ of its agricultural policy, so farmers and land managers must commit for the long-term to protect the environment. To quote the Secretary General of the European Landowners Organization (ELO), “We are on the long road to sustainable intensification and a greener world.”

How can ‘greening’ as a policy objective be translated into practical measures on the ground? To answer this question, the ELO and Syngenta have launched a Multifunctional Landscapes Roadshow.  I had the pleasure to moderate the first panel discussion of this launch in Brussels on 4 March 2013. It brought together different stakeholders to exchange experiences and ideas on the best management practices for the implementation of ‘greening’ on farms. They showed that the integration of field margins, hedges, streams, and marginal areas can be achieved without harming agricultural potential. Indeed, ‘multifunctional landscapes’ are an integral part of what it means for agriculture to be competitive and sustainable.

This launch of the Multifunctional Landscapes Roadshow in Brussels will be followed by six meetings at the national level throughout the year: in Spain, Poland, Hungary, United Kingdom, France, and Italy. The meeting in France will be held at the SAF in September 2013. The ELO/Syngenta Pollinator Network initiative will travel with the Roadshow, and provide field trips on the day after every national event.

Clearly, the future of Europe’s farm policy depends upon it success in integrating environmental concerns into agricultural production. It is not a new idea, but it is an idea whose time has come in Europe. Applying “more knowledge per hectare” is the way forward, to quote Professor Alan Buckwell from the UK. This means more knowledge to both intensify the agronomic and the biodiversity potential of farmland at the same time. The Multifunctional Landscapes Roadshow will showcase how this can be done.

Related Reading:
Mainstreaming Ecosystem Services into Farm Policies – Landscapes Blog

Agri-Myths: Facts behind Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy Reform – World Wide Fund for Nature EU

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