Agroscope, Institute for Plant Production Sciences IPS, 1260 Nyon, Switzerland

Nature conservation – from a casual agricultural by-product to an intended service Yields and economic results of three farming systems at Burgrain

Since 1993 nature conservation is promoted within the Swiss agricultural policy. In 1997 4,2 % of the direct governmental subsidies to farmers were allocated to ecological compensation measures. Approximately 9 % of the national agricultural surface was managed on a contractual basis. The empirical analysis in the canton Zurich (1996) confirms that the participation of farmers depends mainly on financial decisions. Since the quality of landscape and the biological diversity of the notified areas is often unsatisfactory, the policy as a whole seems not to be effective and efficient. The economic theory of asymmetric information suggests that a combination of action- and result-based incentives is necessary. However, such an optimization of the policy is insufficient. The limitations of the current incentives based on a centralized „top-down policy” are set by the economic particularities of organisms, habitats and landscapes (heterogeneity of sites, physical immobility, partial irreversibility of intensification etc.). What is needed is a „bottom-up steering process” which is participative and sensitive to local situations. Finally, success depends on the agricultural policy as a whole. Nature conservation through economic incentives is only possible if there is a reduction in the relative profitability of food production and no discouragement of the structural changes towards less intensive agricultural production.

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