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The MULTAGRI Project

Background, policy relevance and aim


Agricultural landscape with yellow rapeseed fields. Photo.


A growing human population and higher per-capita consumption rates of food and bio-energy call for a strong increase of agricultural production globally. Maintaining high agricultural production through intensive conventional agriculture with its reliance on agro-chemical inputs, however, threatens the long-term sustainability of agriculture and compromises biodiversity conservation and the production of public goods. Ecological intensification has been proposed as a promising alternative, replacing ago-chemical and even enhancing agricultural production in a more sustainable way by promoting supporting and regulating ecosystem services.

To effectively promote ecosystem services, it is important to understand at which spatial scales ecosystem services operate and are affected on . Whereas some ecosystem services may be enhanced by local, on-field management, others are more affected by the composition of the surrounding landscape. Implementing management actions and considering land-use at a landscape scale may therefore be crucial when seeking to develop multifunctional agricultural landscapes that generate both supporting ecosystem services and public goods.

The potential for trade-offs and synergies between different ecosystem services generated by multifunctional landscapes is another key aspect to consider. To increase efficiency, policy instruments should, to the extent possible, target synergies between ecosystem services benefitting agricultural production and ecosystem services gaining society in a whole (public goods).

However, the generation of synergies between different ecosystem services and their spatial and temporal scale-dependency, as well as the way in which complex policy objectives are best pursued by programmes targeting multiple functions, are currently not very well understood. MULTAGRI seeks to close these knowledge gaps and to scientifically evaluate policy instruments developed to target the multiple functions provided by agriculture.   

Policy relevance

Current European agricultural policies are usually directed to individual farmers. As a result, agricultural landscapes are formed by land-use decisions and management actions taken on farm level. The maintenance of ecosystem services, however, often requires actions to be implemented at a larger scale, making collaboration and coordination among farms essential. Consequently, there is a need to develop European agricultural policies beyond current cross-compliance and agri-environment schemes so that they target whole landscapes rather than individual farms. To be able to inform such a policy development, it is critical to understand the consequences of alternative polices on agricultural development and agricultural production (private goods) on one side and the production of public goods on the other.

The provisioning of ecosystem services benefitting agricultural production sometimes coincides with provisioning of public goods. In these cases, individual farmers could be motivated to take actions that promote a service because it benefits agricultural production, while at the same time promoting public goods. When this is not the case, other incentives to farmers may be necessary to ensure the provisioning of public goods - an approach that would require further significant changes in the EU agricultural policy.

General aim and objectives

The aim of MULTAGRI is to investigate how governance of agricultural landscapes can promote rural development by utilizing landscape and biological diversity as assets that can both promote the production of public goods and sustain intensive agricultural production.

The work within the MULTAGRI project is divided into 6 individual work packages (WP) which are described more thoroughly under respective WP-page.

The general objectives of MULTAGRI are to:

  • Determine the spatial scale affecting key farmland ecosystem services
  • Determine synergies and trade-offs between public goods and supporting ecosystem services
  • Evaluate ecosystem services and public goods produced as a result of ecological intensification
  • Assess how payments for public goods and ecosystem services will affect regional agricultural development
  • Assess the European multi-level governance system to understand how and why farmers choose to adopt specific management actions at farm and landscape scales
  • Evaluate how European agricultural policies can contribute to more sustainable farming through payments for public goods and ecosystem services
  • Disseminate project results effectively to the scientific community and to stakeholders