Paying farmers for biodiversity

Learning from agri-environment schemes in Australia

By Dean Ansell (ANU), Fiona Gibson (UWA) and David Salt (ANU)

The key criteria for successful agri-environmental policy revolve around six central themes:
  • additionality – the difference the project makes
  • longevity – the length of time required to achieve change
  • appropriate policymechanisms – policy tools are fit for purpose
  • robust prioritisation – projects are appropriately ranked
  • effective risk management – risk is explicitly factored in
  • sufficient levels of capacity – skills, knowledge and contacts are available

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 factors at play it quickly becomes apparent we’re dealing with very complex issues.

A Greening Australia Project Manager (left) discusses a restoration download the chapters that interest you. Check it out yourself. scheme called Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation with a landowner. (Photo by David Salt)

A Greening Australia Project Manager (left) discusses a restoration download the 
scheme called Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation with a landowner. (Photo by David Salt)

A couple of years ago we (Dean, Fiona and David) were discussing the challenge of conservation on private land and payments to farmers. At that time Dean was studying costeffective restoration (see Getting more bird for your buck in Decision Point #77), Fiona was into robust prioritisation metrics (Making environmental decisions using the wrong metric in Decision Point #82) and David was looking into the history of agri-environment schemes; so all of us had some understanding of the challenges connected to conservation on private land.

We acknowledged there were many perspectives on paying landowners for environmental services (ecological, economic and social) and realised that experts in all of these areas could be found in CEED and the Environmental Decisions Group. So, why not get some of these experts together and attempt to capture their collective wisdom?

Well, that’s what we did and a few weeks ago the results of our efforts was released by ANU Press in the form of an ebook: Learning from agri-environment schemes in Australia.

Available through ANU Press

Available through ANU Press (click on this image)

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 of these investments? Should we do things differently in the future?

There are no quick answers to these questions but if you have any interest in the notion of conservation on private land then we encourage you consider reading our book. We did our best to keep chapters short, readable and engaging. And the topics that are included cover a wide spectrum of environmental, agricultural and social issues involved in agri-environment schemes.

Although, because the final output was an ebook you don’t actually have to read the whole book. You could simply download the chapters that interest you. Check it out yourself.

This book is perfect for anyone involved in agri-environment schemes; be it design, implementation or evaluation – or anyone with a general interest in the many values connected to farming in Australia (economic, social and ecological).

There are chapters on designing cost-effective agrienvironment schemes, choosing different policy tools to account for public and private benefit, improving the performance of agri-environment investments, and what farmers prefer in agri-environment contracts.

Mixed in with the theory are reflections on how to work effectively with farmers, the role of environmental nongovernment organisations (like Greening Australia) and lessons from the Australian Government’s Environmental Stewardship Program.

So, what are the take home messages from this exercise? What should governments keep in mind when designing agri-environment schemes? In our concluding chapter we attempted to distil the key messages emerging from the book. We believe that the key criteria for successful agrienvironmental policy revolve around six central themes: additionality, longevity, the application of appropriate policy mechanisms, robust prioritisation, effective risk management, and sufficient levels of capacity.

Each of these themes are discussed at length throughout the book. In addition to this, Dave Pannell, one of Australia’s leading experts on agricultural economics and agri-environment programs, also provides his reflections on what best practice means when it comes to agri-environmental schemes. Check out his checklist in the box.

And finally, being an ANU Press ebook, our book is free to everyone and available either as a whole book (in multiple formats) or you can just download the chapter that interests you. It’s a great way to package information.

The book is also available for purchase as a hard copy.

To take up any of these options please visit the ANU Press website.

More info: Dean Ansell, Fiona Gibson, and David Salt
Reference: Ansell D, F Gibson & D Salt (Eds) (2016). Learning from agrienvironment schemes in Australia: Investing in biodiversity and other ecosystem services on farms. ANU Press, Canberra.

Does your AE scheme tick the boxes?

If you are involved with the design or implementation of an agri-environment scheme or program, can you answer the questions set below? If you can’t, have you considered what this might mean to the success of your project or program?

This checklist was created by David Pannell and comes from Chapter 22: Reflections on best-practice in design and implementation.


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