My research interest is focused on what people prefer to watch when they visit or pass by or live close to agricultural lands. The landscape as it formed from the agricultural activity has been dramatically changed during the past years in Finland.
3% of farms are abandoned every year. In southern and western parts of the country landscape is becoming monotonous due to intensive monoculture crops. In the northern and eastern parts the agricultural landscape is being replaced by forest land. Preserving the agriculture landscape, which people enjoy, is very crucial especially for country of forests such as Finland. People use agricultural landscape as a close-to-home recreation environment accounting for 180 million trips per year.
Thus, there is a strong need to include people’s voice in landscape planning which is in line with EU policy such as the European Landscape Convention and the Common Agricultural Policy.
I have examined citizen’s side regarding the improvements of landscape that they would mostly prefer as well as the landowner’s side regarding the improvements they are willing to offer. This way, I tried to bring together the demand and the supply of the improvements that may be initiated.
For the demand, I had to carefully examine the profile of the people that hold certain preference and respond to a very concrete question: Can people form a homogenous group when it comes to decide on what they like from the surrounding agricultural landscape?
This is later translated in policy terms and the winners and losers that will result from a policy initiative. Will the initiative be popular and fair enough? Will majority improve its welfare? Who are the winners and who the losers?
The answer to the first question is NO. People are not homogenous and they have different preferences regarding the LANDSCAPE they want to ‘consume’. I even found that a group of people representing the 21% of the sample was totally against any improvement and preferred the landscape in its present form. The rest were positive and demanded mostly the following improvements: the presence of grazing animals and the renovation of the buildings in the farm, for which they would be willing to pay 83€/person/year and 36€/person/year respectively.
The difficulty lies on the substance of what we consider as ‘LANDSCAPE’. This is a public good which everyone can ‘consume’ (non-exclusive) as much as he/she wants (non-rival) but cannot purchase simply because there is no such market.
Then the next question was: How can we ensure that people will get the improvements (in this case the form of landscape that they prefer) they want and for which they truly have a value since these improvements depend on private hands?
Meaning, will landowners be willing to provide these improvements? How can such a trade where people will be willing to pay for the landscape they want and landowners will be willing to accept the cost for providing this landscape, can be put into practice?
The answer to the second question is YES. Such a trade is possible and can be put in practice but certain things have to be taken into consideration. 43% of landowners neglected the trade and those accepting it were willing to offer the socially demanded improvements only if their compensation would exceed their cost.
Nevertheless by bringing together what people are willing to pay and what landowners are willing to accept I concluded that the aggregate benefits would be twice as high as the costs meaning that the trade can finance itself. An important element in this idea is to keep this trade as much local as possible so as to ensure that the trade is functioning well; the trade can be easily communicated in a small group of participants and free-riding (people that enjoy benefits but don’t pay) can be eliminated.
The writer is working as a researcher in Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE). The PhD project “Ecosystem services from agriculture: monetary benefits and market based provision” is funded by Nessling foundation