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Partnering for Farmland Biodiversity Conservation: Civil Society and Farmers Working Hand-In-Hand

Znaor, Darko (2012) Partnering for Farmland Biodiversity Conservation: Civil Society and Farmers Working Hand-In-Hand. In: Stefanova , V; Hart, K; Znaor, D and Kazakova, Y (Eds.) Farmers and Nature Together: High Nature Value Farming and Agri-Environment Payments for the Republic of Macedonia. Avalon Foundation, Wommels, pp. 55-58.

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Agriculture has been Macedonia’s backbone for centuries and has always played an important role in Macedonian society. By maintaining landscape and biodiversity through the ages, Macedonian farmers have been the true guardians of an important national treasure – biodiversity. They have been the invisible hand managing landscapes, agricultural habitats and enabling farm-linked biodiversity to provide a range of ecosystem services. Pollination; pest, disease, flood and fire regulation; preservation of genetic resources; and the provision of food, fibre, natural medicine, pharmaceuticals and appealing landscapes are only a few of these services.
Agricultural biodiversity under threat
Many of the Macedonian landscapes and habitats that are important for conservation have been created by centuries-old practices of extensive grazing and low-input small-scale cropping practices. There is a very strong inter-linkage between farming, biodiversity and maintenance of traditional agricultural landscapes. However, depopulation of farming communities and their ageing, together with the introduction of agricultural machinery and intensive animal husbandry in fertile plains has drastically decreased the number of livestock in marginal areas. Most of these are mountainous regions with poor soils, but with species-rich grassland and other valuable ecosystems. Macedonian agriculture has also become “less mobile”. Traditional pastoral grazing systems, flocks and shepherds are nowadays more a tourist attraction than a common sight.
A reduction of livestock density results in less moving and grazing, leading to land abandonment and changes in land use. The area of farmland of high natural value and the mosaic of habitats for wildlife in Macedonia has been shrinking due to an invasion by shrubs and other pioneering vegetation. This process results in the growth of coarse vegetation, leads to the development of semi-woody species and eventually closed canopy forests. Such ecosystems have substantially lower biodiversity value than fragmented agricultural landscapes, notably natural grassland. They harbour less bird, butterfly and plant species than managed grassland. Enhanced natural succession also causes a higher risk of fire because the excess biomass is not subject to grazing pressure. If not adequately addressed, the problem of land abandonment and natural succession in Macedonia will cause irreversible damage.
The expansion of intensive agriculture in the lowlands is another threat to agricultural biodiversity. Land drainage, removal of hedges and other field margins, usage of pesticides and fertilisers are leading to a decline in agricultural biodiversity and provision of related ecosystem services.
Agri-environment programmes promise vs. farmers’ reality
The EU has introduced agri-environment programmes and payments to stop and to reverse these kinds of negative trends. In the accession process, Macedonia is required to design its own agri-environment programmes, compatible with the Common Agricultural Policy. These programmes encourage farmers to continue practising environmentally friendly measures or introduce those that are not economically attractive, but essential from the environmental and biodiversity point of view. Agri-environment payments are an instrument through which society rewards farmers for the public goods and services they provide, as the market does not recognise their values. However, Macedonian farmers have to be aware of this opportunity and to be prepared for benefiting from agri-environment programmes.
For various historical, socio-economic, administrative, and other reasons, in Macedonia – as in some other countries – the human and social capital for administering and implementing agri-environment programmes is limited. The uptake in these programmes in Macedonia is likely to be slow and on a limited scale due to the following obstacles:
1. Farming in Macedonia, notably in high-nature-value areas is practiced predominantly by small-scale, (semi)-subsistence, elderly and poorly educated farmers. They have limited entrepreneurial skills, financial power and technical know-how. Besides, many operate in the most marginal areas (from an agriculturalist perspective) and under difficult weather conditions and socio-economic realities.
2. The majority of such farmers are outside of the mainstream economic and administrative systems. They produce mostly for themselves and their extended families, selling their surplus products locally for cash, without any receipts or VAT charged. They are not obliged to practice bookkeeping and are not subject to income tax. The farmland they use, especially grasslands – as well as their livestock is rarely included in the Land and other Registers. These farmers are the “outlaws” of the official systems and as such are not eligible for EU area-based support schemes such as agri-environment payments. Those few such farmers who would like to become a part of the official systems and register their land and livestock, face complicated, unresolved land ownership and land use issues – sometimes going back several generations.
3. Products (cheese, milk, “kashkaval”, salami, etc.) that are produced in a traditional way do not necessarily meet the respective national or newly harmonised EU sanitary, veterinary or hygiene standards, making their sale through mainstream marketing channels virtually impossible.
4. Agri-environment payments compensate for additional costs and/or income foregone associated with the implementation of the respective measures. But they do not fully take into account negative agricultural externalities and reward farmers for positive externalities by providing them an additional incentive – an extra, above the costs occurred and/or income foregone.
5. Very few Macedonian farmers have agricultural or education in nature conservation. A vast majority relies only on practical experience and tradition; and they are not sufficiently aware of the ecosystem services they provide and their value for society as a whole. For most of them farming is not their deliberate choice but an inevitable job – a survival strategy. Many of them are likely to perceive agri-environment as an externally imposed concept that has little to do with their harsh reality and their priorities.
Environmental NGOs can help to remove barriers preventing a better uptake of agri-environment programmes
The above-mentioned issues are serious obstacles for the enrolment in agri-environment programmes. However, examples from EU Member States facing similar problems, notably Romania, Bulgaria and some Mediterranean countries show that barriers preventing uptake in agri-environment schemes can be removed if a creative approach is applied and social consensus reached. Building farmers’ capacities by providing them various forms of technical and administrative assistance and by setting up an appropriate legislative framework, social/institutional structures and facilities can increase farmers’ participation in agri-environment programmes. The feasibility of establishing various forms and institutional settings for collective agri-environment schemes can be explored. In this case a group of small-scale farmers can jointly apply for agri-environment payments (e.g. by setting up a co-operative or through the help of the municipality, etc). Taking part in a collective agri-environment scheme would not only relieve individual farmers from administrative burdens. It is also likely to be more effective and more profitable. Moreover, in many cases, this might be the only way for small-scale farmers to benefit from agri-environment payments.
Environmental NGOs can play a vital role in assisting both farmers and society to understand high-nature value farming and agri-environment programmes. Their members are often well educated, enthusiastic young experts who will potentially over time evolve into opinion leaders and/or decision makers. Environmental NGOs can act as catalysts between farmers, policy makers and society. By increasing understanding, informing and educating various stakeholders they can reinforce farmers’ position and create a win-win situation for all social groups. Environmental NGOs can work on informing both farmers and citizens why it is important to protect biodiversity and how this can benefit them. Protection of biodiversity can only succeed if all stakeholders actively understand and support the conservation vision and objectives set by agri-environment programmes. Policy makers should create an enabling environment for this to happen and NGOs can significantly influence them. However, as policy makers often tend to neglect the needs of small farmers – at the expense of “big producers” – environmental NGOs can act as their guardians and make policy makers and civil society more aware about the "hidden" values they provide. Society often tends to develop an attitude of underestimation towards people living in marginal rural areas. Many people – not only in Macedonia – still think that only “losers” choose to live in these areas, i.e. only those who are not “good” or “competent” enough to find their place elsewhere. The attitude that farming is an occupation chosen by those who are not capable or who are not able to do anything else still prevails today. However, those who have that kind of attitude tend to forget that their economic prosperity and welfare is also due to the hard work of those living in remote rural areas and providing the ecosystem services mentioned in the beginning of this Chapter. Environmental NGOs can lobby to put these kinds of issues higher on the political agenda. Through information dissemination, awareness raising, education, demonstration projects, campaigns, etc., they can enlighten citizens and policy makers about the importance of (agricultural) biodiversity and the ecosystem services provided by marginalised farmers. Besides, NGOs can also serve as watchdogs securing that legislation aiming at protecting agricultural biodiversity is put in place and enforced. Further, NGOs can build networks, coalitions and alliances of like-minded individuals and organizations. They can establish a forum of different yet commonly concerned actors and initiate dialogues across differing perspectives and players.
The strengthening of social and human capital in order to ensure a smooth and large-scale uptake of agri-environment measures in Macedonia is a long-term and complex process. It requires understanding and co-operation between relevant stakeholders, a constant exchange of information and capacity building. (Small-scale) Macedonian farmers can continue providing the ecosystem services that are so vital to society only if society is willing to reward them for their hard and honest work. Environmental NGOs are there to help and facilitate that process. This very project has paved the road to a long-lasting partnership between Macedonian farmers, environmental NGOs and policy makers.

EPrint Type:Book chapter
Keywords:Farmland Biodiversity Conservation; Civil Society and Farmers; Macedonia; Pastoralism; Agri-Environment; Human and Social Capital; Semi-subsistence Farming; NGOs; Agri-Environment Payments
Agrovoc keywords:
Subjects: Farming Systems > Farm economics
Food systems > Food security, food quality and human health
Farming Systems > Social aspects
Food systems > Community development > Networks and ownership
Environmental aspects > Biodiversity and ecosystem services
Food systems > Policy environments and social economy
Knowledge management > Education, extension and communication
Values, standards and certification > Regulation
Research affiliation:Other countries
Netherlands > Other organizations
Deposited By: Znaor, Dr Darko
ID Code:26378
Deposited On:20 Jun 2014 10:14
Last Modified:20 Jun 2014 10:14
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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