Green and blue services in Flanders. Experience in practice

Sylvie Danckaert, Dirk Van Gijseghem and Leen Bas

January 2011

After publication of the study Blauwe diensten in de Vlaamse land- en tuinbouw (Blue services in Flemish agriculture and horticulture), it appeared that quite a few organisations already practice blue/green services even though the measures are not classified as such. The aim of this study is to provide an insight into the completed, running or just started initiatives that involve application of the concept 'green and/or blue services'. These initiatives bear significant importance for creating a basis of broad support between agriculture, nature and water and can be a great source of inspiration for the agricultural sector, water and nature administrators and citizens. The second purpose of the study is to provide an overview of stimulating and impeding factors that could play a role in the practical implementation of initiatives involved in green and blue services. Based on the results of the analysis of practice initiatives we will make recommendations with respect to the potential of green and/or blue services offered by the Flemish agricultural and horticultural sectors and indicate any knowledge loopholes.

An inventory of green and/or blue services was compiled from the results of an e-mail survey and an internet search. Nearly 25% of the contacted organisations replied to the survey, reporting almost 200 practical experiences. The inventory justifies the conclusion that quite a few organisations already engage in initiatives related to green and/or blue services. Three main categories appear to emanate from the different practical experiences: they are either based on purpose, on funding or on organisation type.

With respect to purpose, we can distinguish three major types. A first type of service constitutes the green services aimed at maintaining, developing and managing nature, landscape and open spaces. These include services for the protection of species, agro-biodiversity, (botanical or nature-friendly) management of plots and planting, maintenance or management activities. A second type of service are the green-blue services aimed at maintaining, developing and managing nature, landscape, open spaces and the quality and quantity of water. These include services such as planting and management of small landscape elements, plot edge management and erosion control. A third type of service involves blue services aimed at improving water quality and quantity and waste water treatment.

For most groups one or more agri-environmental measures already exist. A few societal services were reported as well and although these cannot be categorised under green and/or blue services, they appear to be important when it comes to finding an entry into the green and/or blue service provision system. A number of supporting initiatives were also included in the inventory because the interviews showed that they may have a high degree of impetus. One of the main facts emerging from the inventory is that compensations for one and the same service can differ considerably between providers of that service.

As regards funding we distinguish between European, Flemish, provincial or municipal resources, the funds of the organisation, market mechanisms and private funds.

With respect to type of organisation we distinguish green and/or blue services supplied by individual farmers and cooperation agreements between farmers. Cooperation may be further divided into specifically developed structures for farmers and other project cooperation alliances.

For the second part of the study we selected ten organisations that were subjected to more detailed investigation. The following considerations played a role in the selection of these organisations: the intention was to examine the largest possible spectrum of objectives of green and/or blue services. In addition, in the choice of initiatives, preference was given to those already running or completed. After all: initiatives that have just been started are harder to check for stimulating or impeding factors. We also chose to include several types of organisations in our survey, the analysis of which was based on expert interviews.

The questionnaire proved that green and/or blue services form an important part of the activities of the different organisations. For the majority of the organisations, expanding broad local support appears to be the main motive behind cooperation with farmers.

The interviews also sought to identify expectations as regards cooperation with farmers. Depending on the type of project (user agreement, experimental projects, landscape management, agri-contracting) the willingness to participate and the expectations in relation to participation vary considerably between suppliers.

The interviewed organisations use varying channels to find farmers who are prepared to deliver the desired green and/or blue service. In user agreements, the incumbent or expropriated farmer is usually the first choice. Other initiatives are mainly channelled via business planners or agricultural organisations. The snowball effect between farmers appears to be very important.

The interviewed organisations further indicate that the type of enterprise has little effect on either or not participating in the provision of green and/or blue services. Nonetheless, some of them do establish a number of tendencies: businesses that are mechanised only to a limited extent, contract farming businesses and those involved in intensive cultivation, as well as companies producing high volumes of manure seem to be less prepared to participate than family businesses characterised by efficient division of labour.

More than half of the interviewed organisations attach importance to the following stimulating factors: profitability, non-monetary factors (image), ability to integrate it into the business operations, knowledge and communication, visibility of the result and social aspects and cooperation. Obstacles mentioned include problems with rules, profitability, ability to integrate it into the operation, policy and social aspects and cooperation.

Last but not least we also studied a number of process-related and organisational aspects. Due to the considerable differences between these aspects and the fact that they largely depend on the type of initiative, organisation and funding conditions, no other general conclusion could be drawn than that they are hugely fragmented. All organisations further agree on the importance of a regional vision and adequate local leadership.

The different organisations participating in the study indicated plenty of practical and legal bottlenecks. Given the time frame of the study it was impossible to check whether these refer to a legal problem or rather indicate a communication issue.

Organisations that cooperate with farmers often showed a lack of knowledge about agricultural legislation. This problem could be solved by organising an information session. In general, there seems to be a lack of knowledge about the state aid regulation. An information session or a description of the method of application could solve this problem. A point of contact where suppliers of green and/or blue services can find answers to their questions could be set up within the agricultural administration.

The second recommendation involves the need for more cooperation and harmonisation between the individual government services in the field of legislation and policy-making. This applies particularly in the agricultural policy domain, where synergy is required as regards preconditions, control and single plot-registration. With respect to the latter, one could think of assigning a specific code for 'test fields' to be used for testing blue or green services. In the area of communication, the explanatory memoranda (e.g. to the collective application or in relation to the preconditions) could explain how plots should be registered, whether payment entitlements can be activated on the test plots, etc.

A number of recommendations were made as regards the system of agri-environmental measures: many organisations are positive about a catalogue system or step-by-step management agreements. Also, there must be clarity about management areas but the agreements should be flexible to a limited extent. A third recommendation concerns the joint creation of measures. This could benefit the integration into business operations and would create a platform for proactive thoughts about potential practical problems. Initiatives to remove such practical problems should receive full support. A fourth recommendation would be to enable group management agreements - this could increase the willingness to participate.

More general recommendations include:

  • More area-specific measures. The set-up of the area vision must occur in joint consultation and has to be coupled with a long-term vision for management as well as suitable policy instruments.
  • Experiments with measures and alternative funding must be enabled. It should be possible to test agri-environmental measures.
  • There is a need for more personal guidance and advice. The number of business planners must be increased and their role must be expanded.
  • Communication must be directed at various target groups (farmers and service providers, but also wage earners); it must be positive and repeated regularly. Feedback to farmers deserves more attention.
  • Measures have to be either shown or demonstrated. Farmers apparently are more open to join if they have seen the measure at work, be it with a colleague or in a demonstration or trial project. It may be desirable to establish a model farm for each province and agricultural region.

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Sylvie Danckaert, Dirk Van Gijseghem and Leen Bas
Groene en blauwe diensten in Vlaanderen. Praktijkervaringen
Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Division for Agricultural Policy Analysis, Brussels.



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