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Innovation Case Study: Environmental protection

Balancing stringent environmental protection and food production in Europe

There is a vivid debate about the decline of biodiversity and the potential impact of agriculture and livestock production. Debates revolve around (i) how to properly measure and monitor biodiversity; (ii) how to properly define agricultural systems and practices to assess their potential impact on biodiversity; (iii) the scale at which impact of agriculture on biodiversity should be measured; and, (iv) what strategies to adopt to effectively mitigate the impact of agriculture on biodiversity while ensuring food security.

For this reason we will develop a procedure of integrated multiscale analysis of the process of agricultural production that can be used to contextualize the effects of patterns of land uses in relation to the nexus. An analysis of a potential policy intervention more targeted towards supporting diversity of farming practices, ensuring provision of public goods and/or halting biodiversity decline will involve two phases:

Phase 1

We will carry out an analysis to identify relevant attributes to be considered when defining agricultural systems and practices, e.g. comparing agricultural intensification vs traditional farming practices. These attributes should also be useful to clarify terminologies directed towards supporting diversity of farming practices and biodiversity, such as high nature value area, less favoured area, land stewardship, etc. From scientific publications, reports and/or participatory approaches, we will obtain an overview of initiatives (public, private and case studies) to halt biodiversity decline, and even enhance biodiversity. We aim to address how those initiatives developed and for what purpose; what are the advantages and disadvantages of such interventions (if any), and whether these interventions generate controversy; what is the expected potential of such initiatives to address the problem; and whether the framing of the problem and the policy intervention as solution deal with the nexussecurity.

Partners: WUR, with support of UAB and UiB.

Phase 2

By means of quantitative story telling we will discuss the potential role of the policy interventions in the future. Using case studies and scenarios, we aim at identifying potential problems omitted so far, flag required improvements in assessment methods and data availability, and launch recommendations for future assessments. The phase 2 of the innovation on biodiversity conservation could include the following two studies:

Case study 1 »

A first case study could be an assessment of approaches to analyse trends in agriculture and indicators to monitor environmental impacts in Europe. There is a general agreement that there has been (and still is) a process of intensification. However, "intensification" is defined in several ways (inputs per hectare, outputs per hectare, N application per hectare, € per hectare, farm size, livestock units per working unit, etc.). Also, a general decline in biodiversity has been reported. However, standards for measuring and monitoring biodiversity are still under debate. In light of a multiscale analysis, the assessment of approaches will be developed at different scales: at farm level (e.g. attributes of intensification at farm level in different locations across Europe, accounting for regular conditions and marginal conditions), region/country level (e.g. consequences of intensification in different regional contexts: average of a country, but also context specific within a country, such as peat soils in the Netherlands or in mountainous areas such as the Pyrenees in Spain or the Alps in Italy) or European level (e.g. trends of intensification of the agricultural sector in EU). This study will provide an overview of formulations of the problem and assess if the "definition" of the problem and the methodological choices affect the results and the conclusions.

Partners: WUR, UAB and UiB.

Case study 2 »

As a follow up, case study 2 could be the development of analytical tools capable of providing insight in potential effects of more stringent environmental regulations (e.g. further "greening" of agricultural policies, promoting land stewardship or enlarging Natura2000 sites) in relation to food production, food security and/or farm viability. This analytical tool could be applied in line with case study 1, i.e. in different contexts (e.g. average country situation or marginal locations, such as peat soils or mountainous areas) and at different scales of analysis (i.e. at farm, region/country or European level). This study would allow to assess the interrelationships across scales and the effect of pattern of land uses in relation to the nexus.

Partners: WUR, with support of UAB and UiB.

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Biodiversity is declining. Agriculture is a major land type in the EU and as such can contribute to biodiversity, although intensive production has been linked to reduced biodiversity. To asses impacts of livestock on biodiversity, we first evaluate indicators used to assess biodiversity effects of livestock in scientific literature. In the review, we are currently mapping the indicators used, the systems studied, and outcomes from the relevant articles that have been identified from the literature search. We are particularly interested in associations between biodiversity and land use, management, and intensity attributes (e.g. fertilizer or livestock density). Next, we will select or compose an indicator to link biodiversity to land use and management. We will use this indicator to evaluate the food-biodiversity nexus for different intervention options, e.g. consequences of increasing nature areas at the expense of agricultural land and of more intensive/ extensive production on total food production and biodiversity.

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You can know more about this case study in the Knowledge Hub section > "Innovation Cases"