Sustainable Agriculture in Protected Areas

Puszta landscape, Hortobagy National Park, Hungary © Foto Dr Gábor Kovacs

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Agriculture and livestock breeding are crucial activities for many communities in and around European Protected Areas. What are the challenges Protected Areas are facing in their relation with Farmers? What is the role of Protected Areas in promoting healthier agricultural practices?

At the same time, in European Institutions there is an intense debate about our Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the set of EU rules aimed at the development of a uniform agricultural sector across the EU. The European Commission launched a public consultation to “Take forward work and consult widely on simplification and modernisation of the Common Agricultural Policy to maximize its contribution to the Commission’s ten priorities and to the Sustainable Development Goals”. 

The goal is to summarise available evidence on the performance of the CAP so far, draw lessons from the implementation of the latest reform, have a structured dialogue, confirm what the current difficulties are, and anticipate needs for modernization and simplification of the CAP.

Have your say at the CAP consultation by filling in this online questionnaire, before the 2 May 2017.

Sustainable Agriculture in Protected Areas

At EUROPARC Siggen Seminar 2017, we gathered 20 experts from Protected Areas across Europe and NGOs to have a deeper understanding of the role PAs play in promoting Sustainable Agricultural practices. Below, we share with you the main findings of this Seminar, and in this page you will find all presentations and report.

Generally, agriculture in PAs can either be considered:

  • a means to continue protecting specific landscapes and habitats – often related to subsistence Agriculture, marginal rural areas, traditional farming practices. In these cases, PAs need promotion and strengthening of these activities
  • having a big negative impact on landscapes and habitats – often related to agroindustry and intensive agriculture.

Of course, several situations can be “in the middle” of these two extremes and there is not a fit-for-all solution. Differing uses of land bring about different challenges and, thus, a deep understanding of the context and main actors at local level is fundamental.

Stakeholders’ expectations, needs, and approaches are also distinct and PAs should take into consideration this aspect to build effective dialogue and partnership. 

In the first situation, the park can play an important role in animating the rural areas, promoting and strengthening these activities by providing recognitions/certifications to producers and valorising their products. Moreover, parks can also support small farmers in bureaucracy obligations and simplify administrative procedures. Finally, in some specific cases, the Park can decide to maintain these agriculture activities for biodiversity protection purposes, even when not economically profitable.

In the second situation, when facing intensive agriculture practices, the park should concentrate on monitoring and reduce its ecological impacts. In these cases, the dialogue with farmers at a deep technical level can be very useful to suggest alternative and more promote more nature-friendly practices and techniques.

Challenges for PAs and Sustainable Agriculture

The main challenges for Protected Areas in the relation with farmers are linked to:

  • damages caused by large carnivores to domestic animals
  • damages caused by wild fauna to crops (eg. deer and wild boars)

Protected Areas play a crucial role in involving the local authorities and engage farmers in implementing prevention measures for domestic animals and crop safety.

Farmers have also been affected by the effects of climate change, air and water pollution. Raising awareness on better environmental practices is a fundamental role for Protected Areas. Organising study tours specifically addressed to the local farmers, who have their crops in and around the PA, is an important step towards breaking the barrier between conservationists and farmers, and can help them learning new environment-friendly practices. 

Agriculture and Tourism

Agriculture is strongly connected with cultural heritage, contributing to build tastes, traditions and the local communities’ identity. Thus, there is a link between tourism and agriculture in PAs and the opportunity to reinforce this connection between the agricultural and tourism sectors. The two sectors can have a mutual positive influence, supporting strongly each other, with:

  • promotion of local food products,
  • development of “farm tourism” packages
  • increase visitors’ awareness on rural life and traditions  (e.g. several examples of European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in PAs).

Nevertheless, tourism development (especially mass tourism) can have a negative effect, producing conflicts on land usage, abandonment of the agriculture activities, preference to cheaper and industrial food products, etc. Therefore, a wide vision and a coherent governance of the local development in all aspects are needed, to guarantee sustainability and socio-economical advantages for all sectors.

How to develop partnerships with farmers?

Protected Areas can act as positive catalyst of the rural area, promoting dialogue and partnership, coordinating initiatives, launching projects and raising awareness. How to promote the dialogue, and break the barrier between nature conservation and agriculture?

Here some tips arising from our panel of experts at the Siggen Seminar.

– switch from conflict management to alliance building, working on mutual benefits

– consider economical aspects but also cultural and socio-psychological components as the emotional bond of farmers with their territory: partnership is a matter of “people”

– knowledge and information both on socio-economic and environment are needed

importance to involve farmers in decision making from the beginning

privilege bottom-up processes

promote mechanisms like consensus decision making

partnership is important not only between PAs and farmers but also to build network among farmers themselves

– other alliances can be very useful: media, landowners, other organisations (e.g. Sloow food), other actors (e.g. “haute cuisine” chefs)

there is a risk in promoting new labels, too many already existing

look for positive experiences, as the agri-environmental schemes

must remain a voluntary approach

For more information about Sustainable Agriculture please contact s.petrosillo @