Participants at this multistakeholder workshop shared a common aspiration to improve biodiversity in European agricultural landscapes and recognised the importance of safe food production in Europe. Working with co-designed scenarios, the workshop used an agreed set of common principles and criteria to identify
approaches to enhance biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and reduce barriers to their implementation.
Enhancing the development and uptake of available agroecological practices requires a transdisciplinary research approach in which the diversity of farmer experiences is considered and the effectiveness of specific approaches are demonstrated. The need to develop solutions tailored to local needs was highlighted, as was a lack of data required to facilitate such an advisory tool for farmers widely across the EU.
An intrinsic feature of agriculture is an alteration of the cultivated area in favour of the production of the crop species, thus altering biodiversity. However, both food security and biodiversity are important for a sustainable future and human wellbeing. How can negative influences of agriculture on biodiversity be reduced and positive interactions be enhanced toward an efficient and sustainable food production, that is, how can we optimise landscapes for food production and biodiversity? To this end a workshop based on participatory methods was organised under the auspices of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) with participants from a range of affiliations from academia, authorities, farming, industry and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) invited for their general or specific expertise and scientific knowledge.
The target was to identify consensual and targeted solutions to this optimisation of sustainable and efficient food production and maintaining / improving biodiversity.
The workshop was organised into four workshops of half-day sessions spread between December 2020 and June 2021 and was supported by a professional facilitator. The main stakeholder groups were successfully brought together. The trans disciplinary discussions between different stakeholders enabled to build trust and the willingness to adapt individual positions and increase the knowledge related to the different disciplines presented. Keynotes were offered to present a problem formulation, provide state of the art information on relevant topics and propose terms and verbiage for discussion. After the workshop, the discussions allowed to
formulate a set of recommendations in alignment with the pre-agreed criteria and principles, using the specific agricultural scenarios defined during the workshop as a guide.
To start with an open mind, participants were requested to envisage a future with thriving biodiversity and sustainable food production and imagine what farms and agricultural landscapes could look like in the future.
Many envisaged a diverse agricultural landscape with many crops farmed in a sustainable but also efficient way, using diverse farming practices and including non-productive areas (e.g., flower strips, hedgerows). Future farming would use lower energy and chemical input and employ modern technology and knowledge to
maintain efficient food production. Many also considered reduced animal production, valuation of food (and farmer’s work), acceptance of increased costs for such more sustainable and more local production, reduced food waste and meat consumption.
Four keynote lectures were provided: J. Dauber presented scientific background and some views to stimulate the discussion about the relationship between biodiversity and agriculture. T. Gäbert provided a keynote presenting a farmer’s view on optimising agriculture and biodiversity, illustrating how this works in practice.
The author is managing a large farm in Brandenburg, Germany, where they have implemented measures to enhance biodiversity adapted to local conditions while maintaining farm profitability. M. Obersteiner presented the results of a multi-model ensemble approach used to assess whether and how future biodiversity
trends from habitat loss and degradation in cultivated land can be reversed (“bending the curve of biodiversity decline”), while producing sufficient food for the growing human population, in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals. F. Herzog presented agro-ecological innovations for sustainable production in
Switzerland and focused on agroforestry and flower strips and ways to improve acceptance of these measures.
A polarity mapping exercise was used to identify the positive and negative aspects of focusing just on biodiversity or just on food production when managing agricultural landscapes. Workshop participants were tasked with considering how to reconcile the opposed views identified in the polarity mapping from the
perspective of different stakeholders. Reconciliation requires: open and honest communication between different stakeholder groups; better understanding of the pros and cons of different approaches to managing agricultural landscapes; collaboration between all stakeholders to drive change and sustainable solutions; a
whole system approach that combines a suite of in field, on farm and off farm approaches and which takes the socio-economic context into consideration; application of new technologies and the tailoring of existing knowledge to develop effective solutions; incentivisation of farmers and fair food prices. An inventory of
approaches and tools, which may be promising with respect to achieving the overall target of safeguarding the necessary level of efficient food production while improving the biodiversity in agricultural landscapes was developed.
Four different farm scenarios were designed, and participants were asked to recommend which of the approaches and tools to use under the specific conditions of the selected scenario. Participants identified and agreed upon a set of principles and criteria to be considered when evaluating the various approaches (e.g.,
open, indiscriminate evaluation based on science, data or experiences and transparent reporting and decisionmaking) and using standard criteria such as effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and sustainability.
The exercise was executed at farm scale whilst envisaging the surrounding landscape. The suggested approaches were challenged for downsides, contradictory situations, ease of introduction and barriers to implementation. Such barriers like knowledge gaps, non-profitable investments or regulatory constraints were identified and described. Specific farm/farmer or landscape characteristics hampering or favouring the implementation of the approach were discussed. The measurability of effects is complex and can be demanding and very much depends on clear targets and adequate data collection. These aspects should not result in
delaying actions which benefit both biodiversity and agricultural production.
Four case studies (arable farm with degraded soil, a low productivity mixed farm, a medium-size intensive orchard and a large intensive arable farm) were conducted in order to illustrate how the approaches identified in the inventory (and any approach not previously mentioned during the inventory) could support an
improvement of biodiversity in different agricultural scenarios with no unacceptable loss of food production. The case studies reinforced the conclusion that a diversity of approaches exist, that include agronomic techniques, diversification at the crop and/or landscape level, habitat provision approaches, innovative and precision agriculture/application technologies and plant breeding as well as approaches such as agroforestry, active landscape management or transition to mixed farming systems. The scenarios also highlighted possible low hanging fruits or approaches that could be easily/further implemented, though the level of implementation
remains for some limited and deserves actions towards incentives, advisory service and training to facilitate their availability to farmers. Overall, the analysis of the proposals for all four scenarios illustrated that there is no “one approach fits all”, however the following was deduced from the analysis:
• The selection of the approaches to implement in a specific situation require to consider local agronomical, economic and environmental conditions as well as a clear vision on the biodiversity targets.
• In all situations, habitats are key for biodiversity, and small changes may provide good improvements.
• The farmer is key for the implementation of most approaches.
• Some approaches would need the support of financial or other types of incentives.
• The creation and/or reinforcement of extension services (assisted by up-to-date- IT tools) that support farmers with practical advice on agronomical and ecological aspects of the implementation of approaches is a critical element for the success of the approaches adopted.
To make a change and improve the situation regarding the workshop targets, actions of the various stakeholders are required. Therefore, participants were asked to identify approaches and activities already going in the right direction, to identify obstacles for their wider implementation, and to list possible next steps
that would contribute to making the desired change. The purpose was to jointly identify specific steps for each stakeholder group that would, in combination with steps identified from each other stakeholder group, contribute to the overarching goal to optimise the situation for improving biodiversity and ensuring safe food
Developing solutions tailored to local needs and bringing them into action requires data collected at a regional scale about biodiversity and ecosystem services (both demand and supply) as well as of land use and management practices. Such data at the necessary spatial and temporal resolution are currently limited for
European countries, either because of the lack of monitoring programmes or because existing data are not readily accessible. There is therefore a need for enhanced monitoring programmes and the generation of open access databases that collate information on biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and services, land use and management practices for European agricultural landscapes. Integrated pest/crop management are key concepts in optimising food production and biodiversity. Enhancing the development and uptake of available
agroecological practices requires a transdisciplinary research approach in which the diversity of farmer experiences is considered and farmers take up a central role in testing and developing innovative and more sustainable farming practices. Increasing the awareness of farmers and farm advisors and demonstrating the
effectiveness of specific approaches could be achieved by using living laboratories to generate a robust evidence base on the ‘real-life’ implementation of agroecological approaches and the consequences of moving towards sustainable farming in a European context. Optimising food production and biodiversity will also
require the creation of an economic environment that enables farmers to ensure a viable income from their activities in food production and the delivery of other public goods and services.
The workshop has been successful in identifying consensual approaches which will lead to an improvement of biodiversity while maintaining efficient and safe food production in Europe. This was and can be achieved by an open minded and targeted collaboration between the relevant stakeholders based on impartial science, including farmer knowledge, and a transparent data-based evaluation of the various options.