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The need for providing public goods in remote and marginal areas, including mountains

In the final stage of the PEGASUS project, three workshops aimed at testing our emerging findings by highlighting specific perspectives. The workshop in Vienna focused on exploring in more detail the potential for provision of environmental and social benefits through farming and forestry in remote and marginal areas, including mountains. It thus started from the conviction that “environmental and social beneficial outcomes” (or “ESBOs”), as we have termed in this project, are particularly important in mountain regions and relevant for (extensive) land management systems in these areas.

For the audience of almost 60 interested experts, administrators and stakeholders from various Western and Central European countries, the European scale of common challenges in mountains became visible in the presentation of the emerging findings of the project results and a series of case studies from selected mountain areas. The assessment of current trends of ESBO provision indicators reveals that, despite increasing acknowledgement and efforts, European regions are not on track to curve negative trends (e.g. biodiversity loss) and land management systems have not yet changed sufficiently to secure ESBO provision in the future. The PEGASUS project therefore intends to showcase the potential of positive examples, which often were found to be associated with the adoption of collective approaches, increased engagement by local and regional stakeholders and a supportive policy framework and institutional support mechanisms. A step change is needed to achieve the targeted outcomes, which in turn requires a real “cultural shift” in the way agricultural and forest land is currently managed.

The four case study examples presented at the workshop in Vienna showed useful local initiatives with both economic and ecological beneficial outcomes. The different contexts (case studies from Slovenia, Austria, Czech Republic and Italy) underscored the relevance of the spatial context, but also the importance of the institutional and policy framework and historical legacies. Core topics of the discussion included the wide range of drivers which can trigger the emergence of collective initiatives, the various types of ESBOs which can be addressed by such initiatives, the need to shape and nurture public appreciation, and the combined effects of private activities and public support.

As the workshop took place one day after the publication of the European Commission’s communication on “The Future of Food and Farming”, much of the policy discussion focused on the potential changes and linkages of future CAP developments to the provision of ESBOs, in particular in mountain areas. In contrast to the communication, which hardly mentions Areas of Natural Constraints or mountain regions, the discussions highlighted the crucial need to investigate new types of approaches which can deliver ESBOs in mountain areas and the policy implications of this. The Commission’s proposal for a “new delivery model” does not yet provide sufficient detail at this stage and it is therefore unclear to what extent it will take account of the need to deliver public goods. As land use changes have an outstanding long-term effect and decisively influence on ESBOs, forest management should also be considered in its implication for ESBO provision. While agricultural and forest management usually are treated separately, the debate at the workshop made clear that a more holistic view is needed to achieve more effective public goods delivery.

The workshop thus investigated in detail how ESBOs in a mountain context could be strengthened and which policy design could be most appropriate and useful in a future CAP. On a more long-term perspective and a more active note, the project results encourage to work towards changes that support collective actions and search for combined private-public solutions. Such a development will not happen without a clear and firm commitment on acknowledging the increasing search for public goods by the public and appreciation of the long-term needs of ESBOs. Future policies will need more and better trained facilitators and to evolve towards more cooperative approaches, creative initiatives and strategic assessment of diverse land management options. Such a policy focus might be even more relevant in mountain areas than elsewhere.

In the coming weeks, the PEGASUS team will continue to develop these ideas to draft more operational recommendations addressed to policy-makers and practitioners. They will be presented during the PEGASUS final conference that will take place on 7 February 2018 in Brussels.

Blog post written by Thomas Dax, Federal Institute for Less-Favoured and Mountainous Areas
December 2017

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