Crumb Trail
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Thursday, February 09, 2006

More tweaking seems required. [via Biopolitical]

Agri-Environment Schemes (AES) in Europe appear to be largely ineffective as policy instruments. Research in five European countries has shown that common species of birds, insects and plants do not benefit very much from this kind of nature management and rare species benefit much less. There are virtually no benefits for threatened species (listed in the Red Data Books). These conclusions were drawn by researchers from six European research institutions during a conference on 30 and 31 January at Wageningen University. They proposed that much clearer and more measurable goals should be established in the future and that the policy should focus more on the protection of specific species.
AES were invented as part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to continue subsidizing agriculture while relieving some of the trade distortion and unintended consequences (butter mountains) of subsidies tied to production. The broad idea was to pay farmers for environmental stewardship on their own lands to supplement the incomes they could earn growing crops. But how is it measured? What is good environmental stewardship?

It is not, as these researchers argue, merely biodiversity and so cannot be usefully improved by more precise definition of target species. If you pay someone to promote those species they may do so, if possible, but they will still not do what is needed for good stewardship. Ever more precise regulation will not result in proper stewardship unless it is continued to the absurd extreme of assigning a fully competent regulator to each farm. Then what's the farmer for? The regulator should in that case simply replace the farmer as the head of the business and make all operational decisions.

European agriculture got into trouble because of subsidies and regulations. The solution isn't more and better controls, it is more freedom and responsibility. That will clarify the task for the farmer and engage his skills and intelligence for the unique task of making his property flourish. Though some will fail others will succeed and the aggregate performance of the agricultural sector will improve.

But will the environment improve? Not necessarily. The farmer is not paid for that work since there are no markets for environmental services. If politicians and bureaucrats want to help they can work to establish such markets.

Easier said than done.

posted by back40 | 2/09/2006 11:15:00 PM


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