Deliverable 3.4: Report on the perception of benefits of selected ecosystem services
Farmers as primary land users have the most power to interact with the land. Therefore, understanding farmers’ perception of ecosystem services (ESs) through farmers’ eyes is of primary importance: their assessments of ESs and their ideas about the possibilities of maintenance will be crucial for land management decisions. This comparative analysis presents how farmers understand the benefits and non-monetary value of on-farm ESs provided by SNHs in main cropping systems (arable, orchard, vegetable and vines) across four European agro-climatic zones in eight European countries (the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland, Estonia and Hungary).
Our methodology relied on previous successful engagements with farmers in focus group discussions with a special emphasis on their perceptions on local ESs, as well as what kind of values they attribute to ESs, and how they understand benefits derived. Evaluation of private and public economic benefits and non-monetary value of selected ecological services requires special socio-economic expertise and moderation/communication skills to be successfully delivered in the selected field studies. Therefore, ESSRG provided the case study partners with appropriate standardised methods (semi-structured interviewing, focus groups with farmers, mind-mapping, ) to assess farmers’ valuation on-farm ecosystem services provided by semi-natural habitats in the case study areas.
We recorded a rich and complex set of perceptions about ESs, linked to multiple attitudes and values. Some (e.g. directly economic) aspects of ESs are frequently considered; other cultural or holistic aspects are not at all mentioned. Case studies were heterogeneous according to farmers’ knowledge and belief system, which influences their perceptions and understanding of ESs and in this sense well represent the heterogeneity of farming in the EU. The mind-mapping exercise produced a comprehensive and detailed set of farmers’ perceptions of most important local ESs. Perceptions are strongly embedded in the agricultural context; less abstract and more emotion-based, connected to everyday farming lives. It shows that farmers normally do not think out of their agricultural contexts. Essentially, the analysis on the interrelatedness of ESs shows that farmers perceive many interrelations with a focus on economic ESs. In fact, farmers recognise that their agricultural practices have a direct impact on ESs and ESs are calculated in their farming decisions.
Attitudes are ambivalent: they usually build on personal feelings and ethical considerations and at the same time use rational economic arguments. Farmers appreciated ESs in multiple ways (e.g. enjoying aesthetics and sense of place, benefiting from ESs, etc) and valued it against the harm caused by pests, diseases and weeds (an indication of their success as agriculturalists). Positive attitudes typically go for yield and associated ESs including pollination; whereas negative attitudes are recorded towards Functional Biodiversity. Farmers have their own personal and ethical considerations, but these become dissonant with economic rationale and capacities in maintaining the farm. As a result, farming ideals and the real world requirements are often in conflict.
What constitutes ES benefit is very much context-dependent: ESs have different relative values according to the ecological and social conditions of a given case study setting. In essence, the economic are most appealing in farming. The perceived economic benefits are mostly related to farm management practices (especially how ESs relate to farm economics) and farmers’ livelihood and identity as “Good Farmers”.
As a most important insight from these group discussions, it became clear that the concept of ESs is very well received in a given local contexts of farming. The valuation exercise also highlighted that the concept of ES is reinterpreted when farmers are involved in the discussions on the local scale. Therefore, understanding farmers’ perceptions is crucial to invite them to maintain ESs. Furthermore, generating local level social learning processes (through extension and local study/action groups) can be as much important as supportive policies and subsidy schemes to shape the understanding of ESs.
The exercise also pointed to the limits of monetary valuation in ES valuation, as they restrict benefits to economics which are seemingly important for maintaining the farm enterprise but less as an ideal for agriculturalists. Farmers mention ‘yields’ as the most important as this is the main success criteria represented by the CAP towards farming – however, according to farmers, this is problematic as yields are not equal with the money gained in exchange.