April 28, 2014

What Incentives and Policies Support the Coviability of Farmland Biodiversity and Agriculture?

By Lauriane Mouysset, University of Cambridge

Modern agriculture and associated farming intensification has been identified as a major cause of declining biodiversity in farmlands. Nevertheless, the world’s growing population must be fed, and a balance must be struck between the ecological and economic objectives of managing farmland and their surrounding landscapes.

Economic policies can help limit the decline in biodiversity by influencing the choices that farmers make about land use and farming practices. In our recent study on the coviability of farmland biodiversity and agriculture, we discuss a framework for combining economically viable agriculture with effective biodiversity conservation. This study assessed how two seemingly contradictory objectives—conservation benefits and profitable farming—can be simultaneously satisfied through policy measures that provide financial incentives.

First, we developed a bioeconomic model to represent the economic and ecological dynamics in farmlands. The model articulated three components: (a) financial incentives at a national scale, chosen by a decision-maker according to his economic and biodiversity objectives, (b) changing agricultural land-use, according to farmers’ decisions considering the global economic context and financial incentives, (c) population fluctuations of 14 generalist and 20 specialist farmland birds affected by the land-uses implemented by farmers.

We applied the model to all 620 small agricultural regions (SARs) in France. In addition to this extensive model and study area, we used a unique framework to design financial incentives. Instead of looking for the optimal trade-off between economic and conservation objectives, as is often the case, we adopted a coviability framework in which the decision-maker defines all the financial incentives that simultaneously satisfy budgetary restrictions, farming income guarantees and ecological constraints, every year between 2009 and 2050. This set of financial incentives we named “viable incentives” and constitute what we call the “viability kernel.”

The results provided quite a large viability kernel—in other words, a range of viable financial incentives that the decision-maker could implement, each of which satisfied environmental and economic objectives over the long term—implying that it is possible to design sustainable agricultural public policies. More specifically, the study showed that a combination of taxes on crops and subsidies for maintaining extensive and semi-extensive grasslands form the basis of these viable policies. This implies that current subsidies on croplands in the first pillar of France’s Common Agricultural Policy could be decreased, while the second pillar should continue subsidising extensive grasslands. In other words, we highlighted the joint value of the two pillars for promoting ecological agriculture.

Our analysis of national budgetary constraints highlights that the entire budget is not spent on all the viable incentives. These budget gains could be redistributed to farmers with higher costs or losses due to crop taxes after the implementation of the incentives, such as for cereal farmers. Moreover, the quite large size of the kernel we characterised offers additional flexibility: new constraints, based on social or productive objectives for instance, could be used to select some incentives within the kernel.

This study highlights the coviability framework as a suitable method to address sustainability issues that involve a range of stakeholders, with sometimes antagonistic views. Furthermore, by identifying current public policy decisions that consider the future without penalizing the current generation, the coviability analysis turns out to be a promising approach to address sustainability. Our work strongly argues in favor of the use of the coviability framework by decision-makers as a complement to the usual approaches like cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit methods.


Read the entire study: From Populations Viability Analysis to Coviability of Farmland Biodiversity and Agriculture

For more information, contact: lauriane.mouysset@agroparistech.fr

Photo: Rastoney on Flickr