Agroforestry and Ecosystem Services: Value Capture in Silvopastoral Food Production Systems in Italy
Since the second world war, agriculture in Europe has been subject to changing and increasingly conflicting pressures. Until the 1980s, European but also national agricultural policies followed a productivist approach focusing mainly on the increase of productivity. For the farming sector this has b...
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|Since the second world war, agriculture in Europe has been subject to changing and increasingly conflicting pressures. Until the 1980s, European but also national agricultural policies followed a productivist approach focusing mainly on the increase of productivity. For the farming sector this has been a time of strong modernisation, which was especially characterised by intensification, specialisation and concentration within agriculture, food industries and retail. Farms were put under increasing pressures to adapt, and became more dependent on both suppliers (e.g. production inputs, capital) and buyers of the food industry and retail sectors.
Since the 1980s, the negative consequences of intensive farming practices have been increasingly recognised, which led to reforms of the Common Agricultural policy of the EU. But even if it could be recognised that farms became more extensive and diverse in some regions, a complete reversal of productivist structures did not take place. The necessity to sustainably transform farming systems is a result of the many challenges still facing not only agriculture today, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, biodiversity decline and environmental pollution.
To motivate farmers to change towards environmentally friendly alternatives to the dominant farming regime, such as agroforestry, requires overcoming of ideological and practical challenges. Research on the attitudes of farmers and other interest groups shows a dichotomy between the perceptions of environmental benefits of agroforestry systems and economic concerns of increased management efforts. Better comprehension of marketing possibilities of products from agroforestry systems and related issues is considered one option for making a transition more attractive.
For this reason, this dissertation explores the strategies of Italian farmers in silvopastoral agroforestry systems for marketing their products and related ecosystem services, firstly focusing on the creation, enhancement and capture of values. One difficulty with the analysis of ecological production systems lies in the immateriality of many benefits, which hinders economic valuation. At the same time, economically valuing ecosystem services can be considered an incentive for farmers to change to sustainable farming practices. In the light of increased consumer awareness and interest in regional and environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional food production, the second focus of this dissertation is on the marketing of products in alternative food systems and the benefits and challenges this entails. Furthermore, the role of agroforestry systems for a sustainable transition of the food system is analysed.
This is a cumulative dissertation consisting of three research papers, which are grounded in qualitative data that was collected in the Italian regions Umbria and Lazio in 2018.
The first paper “Capturing the value of ecosystem services: perceptions from selected Italian farms” deals with the formation and definition of value from silvopastoral systems by farmers of the studied cases. As a first step, this paper assesses whether farmers do perceive their systems to produce additional ecological values or ecosystem services. Grounded on the analytical categories of GPN theory, it is subsequently analysed how and under which circumstances these perceived values are captured by the studied farmers when selling their products. Results are further discussed with regard to different possibilities of valuing ecosystem services.
Extending the scale of analysis from the first paper, the second paper “Silvopastoral production as part of alternative food networks: Agroforestry systems in Umbria and Lazio, Italy” focusses on the regional, national and international distribution of products from the studied systems. Embedded in the contexts of alternative food networks and a growing demand for environmentally produced food, this paper assesses how farmers of silvopastoral agroforestry systems distribute their products, whether they can be considered part of alternative food networks and which consequences this entails.
The third paper “Niche formation in agroforestry: considerations from silvopastoral systems in central Italy” extends the analytical scope once more by exploring options for the studied systems to influence a wider food regime with regards to enhancing its overall sustainability. Based on the concepts of sustainability transitions and multi-level perspective, this paper assessed the positioning of the studied farmers with regards to niche formation and proliferation, identifying barriers and possible solutions.
The results of this dissertation can be summarised as follows: (1) The perception of ecological benefits of agroforestry systems differed among the interviewed farmers and only a few seemed to recognise the positive effects of agroforestry practices. This indicates a so far untapped potential in relation to value enhancement through including ecosystem services into the value of products. (2) Nevertheless, the processes within the agroforestry systems have an impact on the value or the profitability of products, either by reducing the need for costly external inputs or, in some cases, improving product quality (e.g. better nutritional composition, environmentally friendly production). (3) Distribution channels are crucial for marketing of specific quality attributes. All farms sell some or all of their products through direct, alternative channels. Additionally, products are also sold in national or international contexts.
(4) The lack of an agroforestry label was understood as a barrier for marketing the environmental benefits of products from these systems over larger distances. (5) The occurrence of mixed forms of conventional and alternative modes of supply and distribution indicates a limitation of regionalised food systems with regard to the number of consumers as well as the availability of suitable inputs. The alternative food system is still strongly impacted by the conventional food regime. (6) Even if farmers are practising a form of agriculture that diverges significantly from the industrial farming regime, this is not enough to talk about an established agroforestry niche. Instead these systems are rather positioned at the edge of the existing food and farming regime. The contribution to a sustainable transition of the farming regime is thus limited. Better cooperation between actors from the agroforestry sector could be a first step to focalise learning processes and raise awareness on a regime level.