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Results-based agri-environment measures are an effective conservation strategy for species-rich grassland

Science for Environment Policy - Thematic Issue 57 - June 2017

Results-based agri-environment measures are an alternative to management-based measures that, in certain circumstances, could be both more effective and more cost-efficient, since their payment depends on the provision of the desired conservation outcome. This study reviews the success of a scheme, introduced in Germany in 2000, to preserve biodiversity in species-rich grassland.

Under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the majority of agri-environment measures (AEM) are action-based, meaning that farmers and land managers are paid when they undertake the prescribed management activities. An alternative system is the introduction of results-based agri-environment measures (RBAEM), whereby payment is provided when the desired environmental outcomes have been achieved. Wider implementation of this system could not only improve cost efficiency, but could also provide more direct control of environmental impact, greater flexibility for farmers (as they can choose how to achieve the outcome) and increased environmental awareness.

From Ireland to Sweden, many RB-AEM have been established across the EU1, focusing on goals such as the conservation of important farmland habitats and species. Most ongoing initiatives aim to preserve biodiversity in species-rich grassland, and this study focused on one such project, MEKA-B4.

Based in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany, MEKA-B4 is the first RB-AEM cofinanced by the CAP, and was in place between 2000 and 2014. Participating farmers qualified for annual payments if they could demonstrate that at least four species from a list of 28 key indicator species/taxa of wildflowers were growing in their meadows. In 2014, MEKA-B4 was replaced by FAKT-B3, which introduced two levels of payment (one for four and one for six species) and raised the payment rates.

For their analysis of MEKA-B4, the researchers conducted a literature review, including peer-reviewed articles, ‘grey’ literature and statistical data, as well as series of face-to-face interviews. They interviewed 14 relevant stakeholders, including representatives from the Ministry for Rural Area and Consumer Protection, as well as 24 local farmers – 17 participating in MEKA-B4 and seven outside the scheme (but participating in other agrienvironment measures).

Based on their findings, the researchers say that MEKA-B4 should be considered a reward or an incentive, rather than a policy instrument that uses markets or price to provide the motivation, because it did not over all opportunity costs (the loss of other alternatives when only one is chosen) related to intensive grassland-management strategies, i.e. the income that could be obtained from the land in the absence of the RB-AEM. In fact, the payment seemed to cover the opportunity costs of only some types of grassland farming (hay producers, less productive fields, part-time farmers) but not those related to intensive cattle-raising and biogas production, which are incompatible with the conservation of species-rich grassland…

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SOURCE: EC – Science for Environment Policy