Across Europe agri-environment schemes provide important sources of funding that enable farmers to protect wildlife habitats on agricultural land, but in recent years frustrations have emerged around a lack of flexibility (the limitations of ‘one-size fits all’ approach) and the scale of administration with very specific controls, which is most cases discourages farmers from the schemes. That is why, replacing prescription based agri-environment schemes with a system that rewards farmers in proportion to the environmental outcomes they provide, regardless of how they are achieved, is being considered by policy makers as the so called results-based payments.
What are results-based payments? Those are agri-environment schemes where farmers and land managers are paid for achieving a pre-defined environmental result or outcome, e.g. number of breeding birds, or number of plant species in grasslands. In general, the better outcomes a farmer achieves the higher the payment they receive. This differs from traditional or action-based agri-environment schemes, as the farmer has greater flexibility in what management they undertake and payment varies based on delivery. These schemes deliver environmental outcomes, require less administration as there is no need to check compliance with a defined list of actions and farmers are empowered to do what they think is best.
Specific challenges for designing of such schemes are selecting the concrete goals, setting the payment rates, defining ‘success’, measuring it and other, but there is nothing in the current and future EU rules to stop results-based payments. Rather the challenge is how managing authorities can design effective schemes. The current focus in Europe, and those Member States that are interested in the approach, is therefore on understanding where this approach works, what are the administrative and cost implications of such a system and what needs to be done to develop it further, also, keeping in mind the newly Area monitoring system, which is one of the NIVA project elements and which hopefully will let to drastically reduce the number of physical inspections in the fields.
One of the examples of such ongoing analysis can be found in Lithuania. The NPA (Paying Agency of Lithuania), together with Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, Environmental protection agency, relevant NGO and other stakeholders of Lithuania is currently implementing LIFE integrated project “NATURA2000”, which aims to protect the NATURA 2000 network in Lithuania by applying new subsidy schemes for farmers and new approaches for managing grasslands. First pilot testing of innovative agri-environmental scheme, which targets all kinds of natural and semi-natural (highly flovered/insect rich) meadows, has shown, that on one hand, these schemes raise very big interest among farmers, but on the other hand creates additional challenges for the implementation of Area Monitoring system – the number of breeding birds or number of plant species in grasslands cannot be counted through the Sentinel images, which means that either physical inspections in the fields still will be needed or/and farmers will need to send the pictures of their fields, which would mean additional burden for them. Only one scheme have been piloted, but it is already clear, that in order to reduce the burden for the processing of the received geo-tagged field photos, Paying Agencies should start to invest into AI for the automatic processing of these photos.
More information one LIFE NATURA2000 project can be found here (https://naturalit.lt/en/).
More information one results-based payments can be found here (https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/rbaps/index_en.htm) and a good summary here (https://www.cla.org.uk/sites/default/files/RBPs%20Explainer.pdf).