Agroscope, ETH Zurich

Culture and Policy Incentives Interact to Influence Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation

Different cultural backgrounds lead to different uptake of biodiversity agri-environmental schemes at the inner-Swiss French-German language border. Economic policy incentives could mitigate culture-driven behavioral differences.

To effectively promote farmers to conserve biodiversity, biodiversity agri-environmental schemes (AES) need to match with farmers’ preferences, which are also shaped by their cultural backgrounds. In the context of Swiss agriculture, a recent study investigates how the interplay between culture and policy incentives affects farmers’ uptake of biodiversity AES.

Diverse cultures, same agricultural policy system

Agroscope experts exploited cultural differences in space focusing on the inner Swiss French-German language border and studied farmers’ uptake of biodiversity AES (both action- and result-based) on both sides. These farmers share comparable institutional framework, economic opportunities, natural conditions, and farming activities. 

Moreover, the experts exploited changes over time. They focused on two periods pre- and post-2014, as in 2014 a country-wide agricultural policy reform substantially increased direct payments provided under biodiversity AES. This creates a unique setting to evaluate the interaction between culture and policy incentives in farmers’ adoption of biodiversity AES. The scientists used census data on the adoption of biodiversity-promoting AES by over 3,500 farmers near the inner-Swiss French-German language border (Figure 1) from 2010 to 2017.

Fig. 1. Study area. Red line marks the French-German language border.

Do farmers’ cultural backgrounds influence their uptake of biodiversity AES?

Systematic difference between French- and German-speaking farmers in terms of adopting biodiversity AES (Figure 2) have been found. More specifically, French-speaking farmers adopt 41-49% less biodiversity AES (in terms of total payment received under biodiversity AES per hectare of farmland) than their German-speaking counterparts. These differences are partially attributable to farm structural differences developed over time, and partially to farmers’ inherent values and beliefs, which represent two distinct groups of cultural dimensions. These results provide evidence that culture plays a role in farmers’ preference in conserving biodiversity.

Do economic policy incentives interact with culture-driven behavioral differences?

After the policy reform in 2014, French-speaking farmers enrolled relatively more additional land than German-speaking farmers, particularly in action-based biodiversity AES. As a result, the relative difference in biodiversity AES adoption between French- and German-speaking farmers decreased. These results indicate that increased monetary incentives can reduce culture-driven behavioral difference in biodiversity conservation.

Fig. 2. Coefficient estimates of discontinuities in biodiversity conservation payment. Y-axis indicates uptake of biodiversity AES in terms of payment received per hectare of farmland.


  • Culture plays a non-trivial role in shaping farmers’ uptake of biodiversity AES.
  • Policy incentives can reduce culture-driven behavioral differences and help achieve spatially more balanced biodiversity conservation practices.
  • More understanding of specific cultural dimensions that lead to differences in farmers’ preference for sustainable agricultural practices is needed for effective policy design.
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