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Keywords:

  • Agri-environment scheme;
  • AES;
  • biodiversity on farmland;
  • farmers behavior;
  • benchmarking biodiversity;
  • noneconomic instruments

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Until now the main instrument to counteract the loss of biodiversity and landscape quality in the European countryside has been agri-environment schemes (AES), which offer short-term payments for performing prescribed environmental management behaviors. In our opinion this approach is, in its current set-up, not a sustainable way of enhancing biodiversity and landscape quality. Here we will argue that conservation in agricultural areas is also a social challenge. To change farmers’ behaviors toward more sustainable conservation of farmland biodiversity, instruments should aim to influence individual farmer's motivation and behavior. We should aim to place farmland biodiversity “in the hands and minds of farmers.”


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

The agri-environmental programme of the European Union is the key policy tool for achieving environmental protection in agricultural landscapes, including the maintenance of biodiversity in Europe. The need for such protection will increase with a growing demand of food production in Europe (Benton et al. 2011). The EU's agri-environment schemes (AESs), part of the Common Agricultural Policy, pay farmers to manage their land for the benefit of particular habitats and species. The average annual expenditure 2007–2013 from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) is €3.3 billion (http://enrd.ec.europa.eu/policy-in-action/rural-development-policy-in-figures/rdp-monitoring-indicator-tables/financial-and-physical-indicators/en/financial-and-physical-indicators_en.cfm). Despite considerable financial resources and scientific and administrative efforts put into the development, planning, and implementation of AESs, a controversy exists concerning their outcomes. Some studies criticize AESs as having at best mixed results (Kleijn & Sutherland 2003; Kleijn et al. 2006; Wilson et al. 2007). Although there are positive examples from across Europe that illustrate how dedicated conservation efforts can produce considerable ecological gains (Wrbka et al. 2008; La Haye et al. 2010; Baker et al. 2012; Pywell et al. 2012), many people involved in AESs believe that AESs are not always as beneficial as they could be (Boatman et al. 2010).

Most research to support agri-environmental policy has been ecology driven and focused on the development of management options or on monitoring ecological results on farms with agri-environmental contracts. Here we will argue that conservation in agricultural areas is also a true social challenge as it can only be effective in the long term through the active support of the farming community. Although there is a lot of work on motivations and attitudes of different stakeholders to conservation activities in general, what is missing is social science that is combined with ecological research to elucidate the social processes underlying successful agri-environmental management. More broadly, we think that such an approach could increase effectiveness where the aim of conservation is to conserve nature values of agricultural landscapes and fields, i.e., in all cases where sharing of nature conservation and food production on the same land is the dominant strategy, as in Europe. This strategy might also be the most effective means of increasing food security and conserving nature values outside Europe, in smallholder farming systems in developing countries (Tscharntke et al. 2012; Wright et al. 2012).

Farmer's behavior

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

It is generally assumed that the mechanisms for encouraging people to alter their behavior can be (1) economic and market based, (2) economic and based on public contract, (3) legal, or (4) pertain to the societal moral (e.g., Williamson 2000). Of these, market-based mechanisms are the most dynamic as they respond rapidly to volatile changes in supply and demand. In the field of conserving biodiversity on farmland one can consider, for example, consumers preferably buying products from certified wildlife-friendly farming. Accordingly, the effect of these market-based instruments on farmers’ behavior is short term: it will follow consumer demand. Most conservation contracts between land managers and society, such as AESs, belong to the second type of stimulus and incentivise farmers to change their behavior for a fixed number of years. This approach involves an annual payment for managing land in a manner that maintains or enhances biodiversity and landscape features. However, these public contracts are temporary in nature and neither require deep personal involvement of contracted actors nor do they generally force change in farm management strategies. Often, as a result of the detailed specification of management practices, they do not even require farmers to learn anything about “good” conservation practice (Burton et al. 2008). Type three, the legislative approach, i.e., the prohibition or enforcement of certain behavior by law (“command and control”), may take years to implement, or implementation may altogether fail, but, once in place and accepted by the stakeholders, its normative influence will last for as long as the legislation, potentially for decades. Finally, only once new social norms have been embedded within the peer group there is a chance that the desired behaviors will last for generations (Fielding et al. 2005; Primmer & Karppinen 2010). Pretty (2003) observes in this respect “Without changes in social norms, people often revert to old ways when incentives end or regulations are no longer enforced, and so long-term protection may be compromised.” It should be noted here that when “old ways” refers to traditional farming practices—and not modern intensive farming—, it were these traditional practices that made the production of food in species-rich environments possible (Rey-Benayas & Bullock 2012). Some of the social norms supporting traditional or indigenous farming may still be present in certain regions, even in Europe (Fisher et al. 2012), so it may be desirable to support the re-establishment of these norms. The challenge for conservation is to find instruments that are able not only to effect short-term changes in behavior but also to establish or re-establish group norms that will make durable changes likely.

Currently, policy makers tend to place high expectations on agri-environment payments as a tool to curb biodiversity decline in farmland, without appreciating that such contracts generally fail to bring about long lasting changes in intention and behavior. Besides, the provision of financial incentives is not without potential drawbacks. Of particular concern, Deci et al. (1999) conclude from a meta-analysis of 128 experimental studies in social psychology that offering financial incentives for performing behaviors can lead to previously intrinsically motivated behaviors becoming financially motivated. In economics the “crowding-out effect” of non-self-interested and nonmonetary motivation by financial incentives has been known since the 1970s and is well supported by theory and data (Frey & Oberholzer-Gee 1997; Fehr & Falk 2002). It presents a strong warning against using the wrong instruments (Vatn 2005) as actions that were originally driven by cultural perceptions of “good farming” practice may become dependent on monetary stimuli. For example, Herzon and Mikk (2007) observe that exposure to agri-environmental payments has led to the normative practice of providing nesting boxes for birds in Finland being replaced by an expectation of reimbursement.

The arguments above certainly do not justify the withdrawal of financial rewards for conservation behavior but they should make us aware that there is no simple relationship between financial reward and behavioral change. Payments may increase motivation, but they can equally weaken motivation. Knowing this should make us sensitive to the way in which financial measures are applied. The issue of the long-term social and cultural sustainability of agri-environmental policy has been identified as a gap in our understanding of AESs (Burton & Paragahawewa 2011) and addressing this challenge begins, we argue, by developing a better understanding of farmers.

Concepts from social sciences

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Within social sciences there are several concepts and theories that provide a framework for research into farmers’ responses to AES schemes. Of these, two are in particularly widespread use—one from rural sociology (farming styles) and one from social psychology (the Theory of Planned Behavior).

The “farming styles” theoretical framework emerged from Dutch rural sociology, largely through the work of Van der Ploeg (1994). A farming style can be thought of as a composite of normative and strategic ideas about how farming should be done that develops over time into a particular unity of thinking and doing—a “cultural repertoire” (Van der Ploeg, 1994). These cultural repertoires then guide behavior. For example, Schmitzberger et al. (2005) demonstrated for Austria that farming styles correlate strongly with the state of biodiversity at the farm level. Farm businesses that were highly production oriented supported the lowest biodiversity, whereas traditionally oriented and innovative farmers were more likely to farm in accordance with the nature values of their land (Schmitzberger et al. 2005). Although subject to some criticism as an intellectual rather than a social construction (Vanclay et al. 2006), it is widely believed that farming styles can be used to improve the effectiveness of AESs by contributing to the creation of customised support packages that appeal to the characteristics and attitudes of targeted farming styles (Schmitzberger et al. 2005; Wrbka et al. 2008).

While the farming styles approach may be useful for targeting support packages, designing new schemes to induce sustainable behavior is dependent on our understanding of the psychology of individuals—the cognitions that underlie farmers’ behavior (Kaplan & Kaplan 2008). Sociopsychological models of social cognitive behavior are useful in this regard and one in particular, the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB; Ajzen 1991), dominates the literature (e.g. Beedell & Rehman 2000; Burton 2004a). This theory proposes that three key components influence intent to perform a behavior, namely: attitudes toward the behavior, subjective norms (the degree to which one feels that significant others think one should perform the behavior), and perceived behavioral control (the degree to which one feels able to perform the behavior). Each of these concepts is predicted by specific beliefs and evaluations about the outcomes of behavior (for the attitude), the different persons or groups who are relevant to the person (for subjective norm) and the potential skills, opportunities, and barriers one thinks are relevant for performing the behavior (for perceived behavioral control).

The extent to which attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control independently influence behavior is not fixed, but is dependent on the psychology of the individual, the behavior in question and the context in which it is performed. In addition, other components have been found to contribute to explaining the variance in intention and behavior. For example, studies of pro-environmental behavior have shown that personal norm plays an influential role (Harland et al. 1999, Bamberg & Moser 2007). Personal norm is the inner conviction that one has a moral responsibility to carry out the behavior, independent of external incentives or the opinions of others. In other studies self-identity has also been an important additional component (Fielding et al. 2008). In this case behavior is guided by the individual's self-categorization (e.g., “I am a farmer”) and their desire to comply with the norms of that particular social category (e.g., “farmers do … ”), with motivation to comply being higher for identities that are more personally relevant or salient (Sparks & Shepherd 1992; Lokhorst et al. 2010, 2011).

In search for new instruments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

In trying to make the farmer “owner” of the nature conservation problem, lately much attention is shifted toward the goods and services nature delivers to the farmers, such as pollination and pest control (Kleijn et al. 2011; Fischer et al. 2012; Tscharntke et al. 2012). However, whether such an approach would lead to the conservation of rare and vulnerable species that may have minor functional roles is questionable (Bullock et al. 2011; Kleijn et al. 2011). Consequently, it remains necessary to increase motivation of farmers for conserving nature of no direct production value.

Knowledge of the cultural repertoires, normative behavior or identity constructs of farmers may help us to design new, more effective policy instruments. In some cases, attempts to normatively pressure farmers are already being employed. For example, there are a number of instances of NGOs such as bird conservation groups providing awards to farmers. However, whether these measures are effective is questionable. If NGOs become “significant others” they may well directly influence some farmers’ decision making. But if these influences fail to become embedded into the “good farmer” identity, their impact is likely to be limited to farmers with pre-existing sympathies toward biodiversity provision. Another example comes from within the food industry where farmers’ environmental actions may be recognised and rewarded through financial premiums. However, financial rewards delivered in this manner can create the same problem as financial incentives in conventional agri-environmental schemes—the motivation for the behavior becomes financial and, thus, potentially limited to inducing only temporary change.

As stated above, we are not pleading for a complete withdrawal of financial rewards for conservation behavior. Where there are good agronomic reasons, relatively simple AES measures may continue without funding but more complex and ambitious measures require financial incentives to reflect profit forgone, the additional management input, transition costs, etc. (Armsworth et al. 2012). Financial support will often be necessary to allow the farmer to take such measures and bear the loss in production that may result.

There is some evidence that alternative designs for the delivery of financial rewards, such as switching to a “payment by results” approach, may also deliver environmental benefits and be associated with more enduring social and cultural changes. Over the last decade this approach has generated increased attention as an alternative to encourage biodiversity provision in Europe and elsewhere. Although more data on the ecological, social, and economic implications of this approach is needed, initial results look promising (e.g., Musters et al. 2001; Pagiola et al. 2007; Zabel & Holm-Műller 2008). Effectively, payment by results schemes differ from conventional agri-environmental schemes by paying farmers for outcomes rather than performing set management activities. The intended result is that, unlike conventional schemes, farmers are encouraged to engage with conservation and need to innovate and, in many cases, cooperate to achieve greater financial reward. Result-oriented schemes thus create common goals between farmers and conservationists (Musters et al. 2001), enable productivity comparisons with conventional farming products (Klimeka et al. 2008; Matzdorf & Lorenz 2010), and lead to the creation of cultural (skills and knowledge) and social capital (i.e., access to shared peer group resources) as knowledge of conservation management becomes socially valuable (Burton & Paragahawewa 2011).

A complementary approach that would help to reinforce the payments by results approach, may be to try and influence social networks within the farming community. Farmers are known to constitute a judgemental peer group who constantly compare themselves against each others’ performances (Seabrook & Higgins 1988; Burton 2004b; De Snoo et al. 2010). Therefore, benchmarking instruments may be useful (Sutherland & Peel 2011). These instruments make farmers aware of their own performances in biodiversity provision compared to their neighbors, and thus encourage them to exchange experiences and learn from each other. This may lead to normative pressure to keep up with others who are doing better. Studies in the field of social and environmental psychology have shown that providing people with feedback about their environmental behavior can be effective in improving this behavior (e.g., Abrahamse et al. 2005). The effect of such targeted interventions can further be enhanced by encouraging people to commit publicly to improving their environmental performance (De Leon & Fuqua 1995). A recent study in the Netherlands showed in the case of farmers and AESs that only the combination of feedback (benchmarking) and the making of a public commitment was effective in eliciting behavioral change (De Snoo et al. 2010; Lokhorst et al. 2010). These suggestions imply a need not just to produce an attitudinal change at the level of individual farmers but to create a culturally embedded social change. Providing information alone is rarely enough to change attitudes (De Snoo et al. 2010; Lokhorst et al. 2010,). Obviously, this approach can only be effective in regions with a social context in which farmers can communicate on their performances and feel safe to express commitment. Also, since farmers differ in their valuation of nature (Boonstra et al. 2011), the communication between them might be hampered, even within a safe social context.

Expanding research

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

One of the major conservation challenges in Europe of today is “how can nature conservation on farmland be improved?” On the one hand we can identify bottlenecks in the field of the natural sciences underpinning conservation measures. General developments are (cf. De Snoo et al. 2010): (1) to focus the conservation efforts on relevant and promising areas; (2) to put the whole life cycle of the species of concern into the conservation efforts, and (3) to focus on conservation efforts on a larger spatial scale: a landscape approach instead of a focus on single farms, considering, for example, nature reserve areas and their impact on the effectiveness of AESs on agricultural land (Leng et al. 2010). A focus on incorporating climate change into AES planning could be added (Reidsma et al. 2006). With respect to the landscape-ecological set up of AES, scientists are trying to develop new concepts and management regulations (Tscharntke et al. 2005; Stoate et al. 2009; Boatman et al. 2010; Kleijn et al. 2011; Pywell et al. 2012). Many of these natural science issues have been—and will remain—the subject of ecological research.

On the other hand, we should reconsider the motivation of farmers in the field of biodiversity and landscape conservation. Oldfield et al. (2003) showed the importance of land owners’ personal motivation for the efficiency of nature conservation. To date a substantial body of research on farmer behavior and behavior with regards to conservation in particular has been developed (e.g., Schmitzberger et al. 2005; Burton et al. 2008; Ahnström 2009; Goslinga & Williams 2010; Lokhorst et al. 2010, 2011). However, in most studies the relationship between behavioral aspects and ecological results of conservation policy has received little attention. Long-term investigations are missing completely, even though insights here will be of major importance for the sustainable management for farmland biodiversity. It has been argued that engagement of psychologists in conservation process might be crucial for effective communication of natural values, for shaping novel social norms and identities that explicitly include conservation, for overcoming cultural barriers, and for promoting biocentric moral discourse (Saunders et al. 2006). However, we would argue that not only psychologists, but also sociologists, anthropologists, economists and other social disciplines specialising in cultural and behavioral change should enter the scene.

Conservation Biology is defined as a multidisciplinary science (Primack 2008). We believe that close involvement of social scientists with their expertise, theories and methods, into conservation biology is a prerequisite for progress in the field and that this could be generalized to the broader issue of changing societal attitudes in relation to effective environmental policy. We also call for experimental social-ecological research, at least at the level of Europe or regions, to address the above issues. We can capitalise on experiences with recent large-scale studies in farmland ecology of AES such as EASY and the AgriPopes EU projects (Kleijn et al. 2006; Geiger et al. 2010).

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Until now the main EU instrument to counteract the loss of biodiversity and landscape quality in the European countryside has been AES, which offer short-term payments for performing prescribed environmental management behaviors. In our opinion this approach is, in its current set-up, not a sustainable way of enhancing biodiversity and landscape quality. We argue that effective AESs need to consider noneconomic forms of capital—i.e., how the behaviors can generate status and prestige within farming communities (Burton & Paragahawewa 2011). We argue this would lead to greater interest in the subject area and provide farmers with an incentive for learning to “farm for conservation” as well as to “farm for yield.” Further, if the knowledge is generated within the farming community (rather than imposed by outsiders), it may also provide conservation knowledge with the degree of social legitimacy (from the farmers’ perspective) that it currently lacks. Or, in the words of Ahnström (2009), we should aim to place “farmland biodiversity in the hands and minds of farmers.”

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

S.S. was partly funded by a post-doctoral fellowship provided by the Portuguese Science Foundation FCT (project PTDC/AGR-AAM/102300/2008).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Farmer's behavior
  5. Concepts from social sciences
  6. In search for new instruments
  7. Expanding research
  8. Conclusions
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References