Several pressures as population growth, industrial activities and the increase of intensive agriculture from the twentieth century have considerably increased agricultural yields (Smil, 1999). These increases cause loss of habitat and species, soil threats, increase of gas emissions and further deforestation (FAO, 2017.)
Environmental and ecological goods (Agro-Environmental Goods) and services are the profits that humans obtain, directly or indirectly, from the healthy functioning of environmental and ecological systems. The promotion of them will allow crop production more sustainability and ecological viability.
In this context, during agricultural food production, farmers work the land and resources to produce products sustainably. To achieve this, farmers depend on ecological assets, including clean soil and water.
Under environmentally ideal conditions, it is allowed to grow marketable agricultural products, while farmers have the opportunity to manage ecological services. Such as the water cycle (purification, retention, flood mitigation), air quality (oxygen production, carbon sequestration, climate regulation), nutrient cycle, pollination services, provision of habitat and biodiversity for wildlife, control of soil erosion, etc.
Farmers have the opportunity to manage their plots as a public good while practicing good farmland management, but these efforts are seldom taken in the price farmers receive for their produce.
The role of the European Union
The European Economic Community (EEC), as noted by Batáry et al. (2015), already created mechanisms in 1985 to compensate farmers for the loss of income associated with less intensive land management (Regulation 797/85 of the European Union [EU]). But from 1992, the European Union has driven the efforts to reduce pressure on the environment and promote (EU Regulation 2078/92) Agri-Environmental Schemes (AES; Batáry et al., 2015; European Union, 2017).
Ultimately, the main objectives of the AES include reducing toxic emissions and pesticides, protecting biodiversity, restoring landscapes and preventing rural depopulation (Kleijn and Sutherland 2003).
It is widely accepted for all actors (policy makers, stakeholders, rural population, …) that conservation programs must take into account the inherent heterogeneity of the interaction between crop production and environmental outcomes (Wu & Babcock, 1996).
Obviously, it must be taken into account that the production function and the environmental parameters vary according to the crop and the area due to the variability of the climate and the characteristics of the land.
The European Commission offers technical and also financial support to Member States to design and implement these ESAs. Likewise, each measure has a specific environmental objective, such as: the protection or improvement of biodiversity, soil, water, landscape or air quality, or mitigation or adaptation to climate change. Many actions are multifunctional and are designed to provide simultaneous benefits for various environmental objectives. Each measure also involves paying those farmers who choose to adopt specific environmental management practices on their farms.
Types of AES
According to Kleijn and Sutherland (2003) AES can be classified into horizontal or zonal. Horizontal schemes generally harmonize the protection of the environment with the objectives of nature conservation and can be applied throughout the country. They are designed to easily adapt to crop field management systems. They are not overly demanding nor do they directly support the management that farmers are doing anyway, such as organic management
On the other hand, zonal schemes are directed to areas with high natural value. They generally require personalized management for the species or ecosystems, and farmers are often required to seek expert advice in developing management plans.
From the CONSOLE project we recommend downloading and reading the document entitled << Agro-environmental schemes: impacts on the agricultural environment >> where there are several successful examples of the application of AES.
- European Union. 1997. Agri-environment schemes: impacts on the agricultural environment. European Commission.
- FAO, 2017. The future of food and agriculture -Trends and challenges. Rome
- Kleijn D, Sutherland WJ. 2003. How effective are European agri-environment schemes in conserving and promoting biodiversity? Journal of Applied Ecology. 40:947–969
- Smil V. 1999. Detonator of the population explosion. Nature. 1999; 400:415
- Wu, J., Babcock, B.A.1996. Contract Design for the Purchase of Environmental Goods from Agriculture. Amer. J. Agr. Econ. 78. 935 – 945