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Learning from agri-environment schemes in Australia

Learning from agri-environment schemes in Australia: Investing in biodiversity and other ecosystem services on farms OPEN ACCESS

Dean Ansell
Fiona Gibson
David Salt
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Learning from agri-environment schemes in Australia
    Book Description:

    Learning from agri-environment schemes in Australia is a book about the birds and the beef — more specifically it is about the billions of dollars that governments pay farmers around the world each year to protect and restore biodiversity. After more than two decades of these schemes in Australia, what have we learnt? Are we getting the most out of these investments, and how should we do things differently in the future? Involving contributions from ecologists, economists, social scientists, restoration practitioners and policymakers, this book provides short, engaging chapters that cover a wide spectrum of environmental, agricultural and social issues involved in agri-environment schemes.

    eISBN: 978-1-76046-016-7
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Dean Ansell, Fiona Gibson and David Salt

    Do our agricultural landscapes hold the key to protecting our declining biodiversity? If they do, how would it be done? And who would pay? Would it be the landowner, or the general public (via the government)? These might sound like simple questions, but when you consider some of the environmental, social, and economic factors at play, it quickly becomes apparent that we are dealing with very complex issues.

    To illustrate this, consider these two relatively simple situations, both examples of efforts to conserve biodiversity on farmland in Australia. The first involves a run-down paddock from which the landowner has removed...

  2. Part I. The agri-environment in the real world
    • Graham Fifield

      Agricultural communities are now more diverse than ever, therefore incentive schemes must be flexible, and developed, at least in part, in consultation with the intended audience.

      Less than perfect ecological outcomes may be better than no outcomes at all.

      Voluntary schemes, whether subsidised or incentivised, deliver cost-effective outcomes, but must have ownership by landholders.

      Our largest scheme for private land revegetation was collaboratively developed with landholders and has uptake across the country.

      Environmental change takes time and requires an ongoing commitment to the site and the landholder to guarantee a return on the initial investment.

      As a project manager with...

    • Emma Burns, Charlie Zammit, Simon Attwood and David Lindenmayer

      The conservation of biodiversity on private land is both a high priority and a considerable challenge. An effective response to this challenge requires a combination of legislative and incentive mechanisms, coupled with preparedness by government to review and revise administrative arrangements. Preliminary results from the Environmental Stewardship Program, established by the Australian Government, highlight that there is a role for market-based approaches. However, implementation of this program through a Commonwealth bureaucracy was not without its challenges. Here we provide an overview of the program’s implementation from 2007 to 2012, followed by discussion of some key lessons learned.

      We summarise these...

    • Geoff Park

      Productive farming can work hand in hand with environmental protection, especially when it is supported through understanding of farm-scale realities—such as a better understanding of the costs and risks associated with practice change—and better integration of biophysical, economic, and social knowledge.

      There needs to be better recognition of the extent to which improved private land management contributes to public good outcomes.

      The voluntary adoption of best management practices (BMPs) is unlikely to go far towards achievement of SMART environmental goals, as most required practices are simply not profitable or adoptable at the scale required.

      Successful outcomes will rely...

    • David Freudenberger

      Complex markets need brokers; eNGOs have performed this role well.

      Innovation is critical, and this requires organisations willing to fail. eNGOs are important for innovation.

      Engaging farmers is important, but sometimes it is not enough.

      Making a profit is OK.

      eNGOs provide a voice for the voiceless.

      Environmental non-government organisations (eNGOs) have been actively involved in agri-environment schemes since their inception in Australia. These include a range of groups — large and small — operating over a range of scales. Their role and value is sometimes overlooked in discussions on agri-environment schemes, yet their contributions are profound and often critical to the...

    • Rob Fraser

      Unforeseen consequences: the origins of the European Union’s land use policy was in setting aside agricultural land as an instrument of production control. It was not aimed at generating environmental benefits, and yet it ended up doing this as well.

      Carrots versus sticks: the European Union has felt (increasingly) socially empowered to use policy sticks on its farmers to deliver improved environmental goods and services from the agricultural landscape, whereas in the US and Australia policymakers have felt obliged to offer mainly carrots to farmers to do so.

      Environmental benefits versus foregone agricultural income: the UK is in the process...

    • David Salt

      Australia’s agri-environment policy began in the 1980s. Early measures focused on community-based NRM, increasing awareness, and building social capital through Landcare.

      The perceived success of these early efforts enabled a ramping up of government investment through the Natural Heritage Trust and successive programs.

      There have been repeated failures to demonstrate measurable outcomes from this increased investment.

      This has led to a greater focus on targeted, strategic, and accountable programs.

      The capacities required to effectively deliver these programs have been inadequately addressed.

      A very brief history of agri-environment policy in Australia would read something like this: It started small and focused...

  3. Part II. The birds and the beef
    • Saul Cunningham

      Ecosystem services thinking explicitly brings farmers and their activity into the framework for decision-making and provides a model communicating the benefits of nature conservation that is effective for some audiences.

      Communicating the benefits of ecosystem services to landholders can promote the advantages of nature conservation actions in their landscapes, increasing adoption and community support.

      We should not assume that ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation always pull in the same direction for land use decision-making.

      Ecosystem services thinking can help to identify stakeholders and beneficiaries in a way that improves policy design.

      Management to improve ecosystem services sometimes requires a deeper...

    • Anna Renwick and Nancy Schellhorn

      Agri-environment schemes have the potential to increase biodiversity in productive landscapes.

      The land sparing/land sharing framework uses trade-offs between agricultural yield and biodiversity to choose between two ways of achieving biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes, but its simplicity has generated considerable debate.

      Land sharing and land sparing represent a false dichotomy. Strategies for biodiversity conservation in agro-ecosystems form a continuum between these two extremes.

      Using different measures of diversity, considering the appropriate scale, and incorporating land use history and social factors will enable more robust management decisions to be made which best support biodiversity and production in agro-ecosystems.

      Addressing these...

    • Md Sayed Iftekhar, Maksym Polyakov and Fiona Gibson

      Biological conservation attempts to preserve and maintain existing habitat, while ecological restoration attempts to reverse an environmental degradation process.

      The higher cost per unit area (or per ecological outcome) to implement restoration projects, compared with conservation projects, could negatively influence their formation and acceptance.

      Broad support for restoration projects can be difficult to achieve, due to people’s loss aversion behaviour.

      Uncertainty in expected biodiversity benefits can influence the acceptance and success of restoration projects.

      Social value could influence the objectives of restoration projects; the more aligned the social and environmental objectives are, the higher the chances of acceptance.

      Some of...

    • Geoffrey Kay

      Agri-environment schemes have mixed outcomes for biodiversity, and more monitoring is needed particularly for certain taxonomic groups.

      Agri-environment scheme effectiveness is heavily reliant on the spatial scale of implementation, and addressing this at local and landscape scales is critical for advancing their application for conservation of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

      At local scales, information about how species respond to environmental features, as well as the impact of management actions, could improve site selection and effectiveness of management prescriptions.

      At landscape scales, the offsite benefits of agri-environment schemes could to be enhanced by better understanding the impact of surrounding landscape context....

    • Saan Ecker

      Respond to landholder motivations for biodiversity conservation.

      Understand the socio-demographic profile of potential participants.

      Support those already making the change.

      Design programs to achieve compatibility between financial and biodiversity outcomes.

      Social dimensions play an important role in landholder participation in natural resource management (NRM) programs. Many regional-and community-based NRM organisations have a good understanding of landholder characteristics and capacity from data collected through national, regional, or catchment scale landholder surveys and other social studies. But, often, NRM plans only include aspirations for integrating this data into program design, project communications and evaluation. While various frameworks have been developed to do...

    • Romy Greiner

      Agri-environment schemes offer positive financial incentives to farmers, and are favoured by farmers over other policy approaches, but this does not translate into unconditional participation. To maximise participation, agri-environment scheme design needs to consider farmer preferences for contract features, motivations, and attitudes.

      In general, farmers are more likely to sign up to agri-environment scheme contracts that allow some form of agricultural production on the contract area, offer a higher per hectare payment, are shorter, allow flexibility, and are externally monitored.

      Preferences are context specific and there is significant variation in preferences among farmers, meaning that a suite of agri-environment scheme...

    • Maksym Polyakov and David Pannell

      Selecting an effective ecological restoration project requires information about the levels of public and private net benefits that are likely to result from project implementation.

      Environmental assets on private land in agricultural landscapes may provide benefits that are valued by the landholders. The value of these benefits could be reflected in property sale prices.

      An extra hectare of native vegetation is valued more highly by the landholders of smaller properties and by the landholders of properties with smaller areas of native vegetation.

      Accounting for the private benefits generated by native vegetation when planning and targeting ecological restoration results in substantially...

  4. Part III. Planning, doing and learning
    • Dean Ansell

      Agri-environment schemes are often highly variable in both their economic cost and biodiversity benefit, creating the potential for significant inefficiencies in conservation expenditure.

      Evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of agri-environment schemes can identify opportunities to significantly improve the conservation gains with the available resources, however, such evaluations are uncommon.

      Simple economic evaluation tools can be applied by researchers or policymakers, using minimal economic data, to compare the costeffectiveness of agri-environment schemes at different scales and at stages through the implementation process.

      Over the past decade, concerns have been raised regarding the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in conserving biodiversity. Studies have shown...

    • Stuart Whitten and Anthea Coggan

      Transaction costs of agri-environment schemes include the time, effort and expense of gathering information, identifying projects, negotiating contracts, and monitoring and compliance.

      They are incurred by participants, scheme proponents and administrators and can be significant, impacting not only on total scheme costs, but also on efficiency.

      Transaction costs are directly related to both scheme design and scheme implementation.

      Considering transaction costs does not necessarily mean reducing them — indeed, efficient program design may require increased transaction costs in order to more confidently deliver the desired outcome.

      Agri-environmental schemes, which are designed to support private land managers in delivering positive environmental outcomes,...

    • Fiona Gibson and David Pannell

      A range of metrics are used to evaluate and prioritise projects within agri-environment schemes.

      The way the metric is calculated, and the choice of variables included, are important decisions in the evaluation process.

      When funds are scarce, the quality of the metric is important.

      Errors in metric design are readily avoidable.

      It is more important to ensure that high-quality decision metrics are used than to invest in improving the quality of information about projects.

      Good decision-making in agri-environment schemes is informationintensive. Environmental managers usually collect and weigh up information on landscape characteristics, ecological responses, human behaviour, and project risk. This...

    • David Pannell

      The selection of the best policy tool or delivery mechanism for an agri-environmental project depends crucially on the levels of public net benefits and private net benefits generated by the project.

      A framework is presented that recommends a policy mechanism from one of five categories: (a) positive incentives; (b) negative incentives; (c) extension (technology transfer, education, communication, demonstrations, support for community network); (d) technology development; and (e) no action.

      Private net benefits (which drive landholder behaviour) are just as important as public net benefits (e.g. for the environment) when selecting the policy mechanism.

      Australian programs tend to rely too much...

    • David Duncan and Paul Reich

      Appropriate contrasts, such as controls and counterfactual data, are fundamental to sound interpretation of the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes.

      Such contrasts are rarely included in evaluations of Australian agri-environment schemes for a range of reasons, including logistical constraints.

      Different kinds of contrasts exist that permit different kinds of inference about program effectiveness.

      Effective evaluation incorporating sampling counterfactual data need not cost more than is currently expended on monitoring and evaluation.

      Every scheme should explicitly include counterfactual thinking in evaluation plans, even if there is no intention to monitor.

      Despite the large amounts of money invested in agri-environment schemes in Australia...

    • Philip Gibbons

      Agri-environment schemes should focus on investments that maximise gains in biodiversity relative to the status quo.

      It is widely viewed that our conservation priorities should be biodiversity that has high values of irreplaceability (biodiversity that must be protected to achieve conservation targets) and has high vulnerability (the likelihood that biodiversity will be lost without conservation investment).

      Too much agri-environmental investment is in biodiversity that is not vulnerable to loss, and this investment does not result in substantial gains to biodiversity relative to the status quo.

      Agri-environment schemes should be informed by a decision framework that calculates gains in biodiversity relative...

    • Graeme Doole and Louise Blackmore

      This chapter reviews the drivers of cost-effectiveness in conservation tender programs, with a focus on what promotes landholder participation, based on survey results.

      Key lessons are drawn from the statistical analysis of survey responses from landholders, researchers, and agency staff with previous involvement in these schemes.

      Non-landholders identify the value of flexible tender designs, involving low-cost monitoring and strong relationships with stakeholders.

      Landholder responses suggest that tender schemes may have limited impact due to the crowding out of private investment, inadequate support during bidding and monitoring, and high administrative workload.

      Overall, future tender programs must employ options to counteract crowding...

    • David Pannell

      We should be guided by experience. Agri-environment programs have been run over many years in many countries. They provide lessons of success factors (and barriers to success) that should inform how we design new programs and projects.

      Key elements of best practice relate to:

      the design of programs/institutions;

      the design of projects/investments;

      how investment options are ranked;

      how uncertainty is managed;

      how people’s biases, preconceptions, and self-interest are managed; and

      how transaction costs are managed.

      Delivering best practice requires expertise. Agencies with responsibility for agri-environment programs should foster the development of expertise in these issues amongst their staff.

      Research and...

    • Dean Ansell, Fiona Gibson and David Salt

      Of course, this is a hypothetical news story, but you never know what lies around the political corner. The Decade of Landcare announced in 1989 was not anticipated by many in the years preceding it. While it was well received by all and sundry, it did not produce the level of enduring environmental outcomes that was expected (see Chapter 7 by David Salt).

      Perhaps that is not surprising. Back then, our understanding of community-based natural resource management (NRM), robust environmental frameworks, market-based instruments, and environmental accounting was basic at best. A quarter of a century later, these fields have developed...