• Agricultural development model;
  • farmers' attitude;
  • farmlands;
  • science policy interface;
  • social learning


  1. Top of page
  2. Correspondence
  3. References

During the last decade, actors involved in nature conservation have shown a growing interest in the social sciences, mainly because they assumed that attitudes and behaviors must change to achieve effective biodiversity conservation (Ahnström et al. 2009). In their recent paper, Geert de Snoo et al. (February, p. 66) make a stimulating review of challenges for “making farmers matter” and combining different disciplines in order to achieve effective nature conservation on farmland. The authors stated the importance of the social environment when seeking to develop and apply environmental policies. However, they do not mention the importance of changing the way scientists and policy-makers frame biodiversity conservation issues on farmlands within the context of the European Union agricultural development model. Before promoting new attitudes and practices, it is necessary first to consider (i) social structure, (ii) farmers’ beliefs, values, and knowledge bases, and (iii) the institutions that shape farmers’ choices (Adams et al. 2003). In order to adequately address current biodiversity issues on farmland a transdisciplinary framework is required, combined with participatory approaches to collectively build policies fostering ecologically sound agro-ecological landscapes (Méndez et al. 2013).

Thus, shifting policy from ecological modernization to a new “agro-ecological” development model is a key issue and important avenue for the future. Conservation scientists should consider that the purpose of public policy is not only to solve problems but also to construct conceptual frameworks for the interpretation of the world. The effectiveness of the policy is often a function of how much effort is put into understanding the different types of knowledge and world views of the various actors involved, including those that drive policy design, rule elaboration, and compliance to the rules (Ostrom 2005). Several studies have shown that rules may modify behaviors mainly if they are supported by trust, legitimacy, and cooperation (Adger et al. 2003). “Ideas, Interests, and Institutions” (Hall 1997) are key analytic components of the social sciences that contribute to public policy elaboration. Thinking through this 3-I framework may help to focus attention on power distribution among stakeholders (Interests), myths and beliefs (Ideas), policy core (Institutions). To do so, approaches that mix conservation psychology, social sciences, economics, agronomy, ecology, and participatory modeling can help conceptualize farmlands as social–ecological systems. In this way, farmers, experts, decisionmakers, and scientists can work together within a true systems approach.

Toward such approach we need better theoretical and moral foundations for understanding processes of social learning and institutional change (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008); and encouraging and rewarding land stewardship by promoting a sense of ‘Community of Life’ and alternative farming systems (Chapin et al. 2009).

This change of perspective implies that researchers will have to deal with complexities and uncertainties of social–ecological systems, and acknowledge the duality of their position—experts and stakeholders. In other words, effective nature conservation on farmlands may also require conservation ecologists to change their own attitudes and behaviors.


  1. Top of page
  2. Correspondence
  3. References
  • Adams, W.M., Brockington, D., Dyson, J. & Vira, B. (2003). Managing tragedies: understanding conflict over common pool resources. Science, 302, 1915-1916.
  • Adger, W.N., Brown, K., Fairbrass, J. et al. (2003). Governance for sustainability: towards a “thick” analysis of environmental decision making. Environ. Plann. A, 35, 1095-1110.
  • Ahnström, J., Höckert, J., Bergeå, H.L., Francis, C.A., Skelton, P. & Hallgren, L. (2009). Farmers and nature conservation: What is known about attitudes, context factors and actions affecting conservation? Renew. Agric. Food Syst., 24, 38-47.
  • Chapin, F.S. III, Kofinas, G.P. & Folke, C. (2009). Principles of ecosystem stewardship: resilience-based natural resource management in a changing world. Springer Verlag, New York, NY.
  • Hall, P.A. (1997). The role of interests, institutions, and ideas in the comparative political economy of the industrialized nations. Pages 174-207 in P.M. Lichbach & A. Zuckerman, editors. Comparative politics. rationality, culture, and structure. Cambridge University, Cambridge, UK.
  • Méndez, V.E., Bacon, C.M. & Cohen, R. (2013). Agroecology as a transdisciplinary, participatory, and action-oriented approach. Agroecol. Sustain. Food Syst., 37(1), 3-18.
  • Ostrom, E. (2005). Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
  • Pahl-Wostl, C., Tàbara, D., Bouwen, R. et al. (2008). The importance of social learning and culture for sustainable water management. Ecol. Econ., 64, 484-495.