Organic farming makes an important contribution to many ecological and societal goals. These social and ecological achievements (söL) are supposed to be rewarded more than before by political and market-based instruments. Though, the direct contribution to social objectives is qualitatively difficult to present, let alone quantify. This would, however, be an important prerequisite for transparent remuneration of the services.
Similarly, there is a lack of suitable approaches for assessing benefits, possible synergies or interactions. These are often not attributable to individual companies, but rather an interaction of various factors in social-ecological systems at the regional level. Accordingly, regional approaches are particularly suitable for assesing the various social objectives and, for example, rewarding them by means of value chain-based approaches. They make it possible to optimise the provision at the regional level.
The valorization of social and ecological services in agriculture can be achieved in particular through the cascade 'awareness - appreciation / interest - value creation'. According to this understanding, the regiosöl project contributes to the provision of social and ecological services in the value chain 'nutrition of organic agriculture' by
- making a transparent assessment visible at the regional level,
- increasing an appropriate remuneration of the societal benefits of organic farming at the regional level through collective approaches,
- using regional action strategies to optimise the provision of benefits and thus improve the sustainability of the region,
- implementing a test phase in the pilot regions to further develop the regional value instruments with regard to the above-mentioned objectives.
The project aims to develop new approaches, especially in assessing social and regional söL and the identification of söL at the regional level. The approaches should support regional actors in communicating these services of organic agriculture. In addition, they can be used to develop policy-oriented arguments for organic agriculture, supported by new findings on the positive contribution of organic agriculture to the region. The project is based on a social-ecological system framework and on the multi-level approach associated with transition theory as an analytical framework.
Coordination and stakeholder involvement
Responsibility for coordination lies with the Institute for Rural Development Research (IfLS). In the sense of a transdisciplinary research approach, national experts, multipliers and regional actors in the real laboratories (e.g. farmers) are involved in the development of the questions and approaches.
Status quo analysis and proficiency testing
Having in mind the project goal, relevant existing approaches to assesing, communication and renumeration are selected and reviewed. The questions of the status quo analysis include the recorded, communicated and rewarded social-ecological services and their positive effects, the added value for farms and regions, the suitability test for organic farming as well as the relevance of the approaches for practice and the implementation of the results.
Regional recording methods, remuneration approaches and strategies for action
New or complementary approaches for the assessment, communication and remuneration of the söL are generated and further developed in the two real laboratories or interviews with operations managers, respectively. Based on the results of the status-quo analysis, the regional söL to be surveyed in the real laboratories are determined, as well as the gaps in existing approaches, especially with regard to regional and social söL. The implementation is accompanied by an audit from which conclusions for the practical suitability of the developed approaches derive. Subsequently, strategies for action and their operationalisation for an improved supply of organic oil are developed for the regions or real laboratories.
Regional Value Sustainability Analysis and Performance Accounting
The Regional Value Sustainability Analysis (RVSA) and Performance Accounting have proven to be particularly suitable and easy to use tools in the course of the regiosöl project.
These online tools record the performance of farms in the area of sustainability. The RVSA is a self-check in which more than 150 key figures in the dimensions of ecology, social affairs and regional economy are queried and evaluated. This provides valuable information for the farm management on where the farm is already performing well or in which areas improvements can be made. The Regional Value Performance Accounting also provides the farm with monetary evidence of its social, ecological and regional economic performance.
Cooperating with Regionalwert AG Freiburg and Regionalwert Impuls GmbH
Due to the overlapping content and convincing approach of the tools, a cooperation with Regionalwert AG Freiburg and Regionalwert Impuls GmbH was agreed upon and has now been official since the beginning of June 2021.
The objectives of the cooperation are to review and adapt the Regionalwert sustainability analysis and performance accounting on the basis of 50 organic farms each in the two pilot regions Rhineland and Northern Hesse. At the same time, the socio-ecological indicators developed in the regiosöl project will be tested. In addition to the contributions to operational sustainability, the social services provided by organic farms are to be recorded, for example the social commitment of the farm managers and employees or their contribution to local recreation or health promotion. The comprehensive evaluation will also enable initial conclusions to be drawn for the development of recording and implementation strategies at the regional level.
Synthesis of the results and derivation of recommendations for action and policy
The results of the empirical research will be processed and recommendations for action for various target groups, such as farmers, educational and consulting institutions, associations and civil society actors, administration, companies and politics will be developed.
Dissemination and knowledge transfer
With the support of the project partners, the IfLS takes care of the dissemination of information about the project and ensures the availability of the results beyond the project duration. Among other things, regular scientific articles and scientific publication(s) in thematically relevant journals and print media are planned, as well as the presence at scientific conferences or other events and, at the end of the project, a practice-oriented manual.
The Organic Agriculture Model Region North Hesse (ÖLMN) as a pilot region in the regiosöl project includes the district of Kassel and the Werra-Meissner district. With Kassel, the only major city in North Hesse, the rural region has a regional center with approx. 205,000 inhabitants. Both local authorities have a varied cultural landscape, which is enriched in the district of Kassel by the Habichtswald and Kaufunger Wald/Söhre nature parks and the Reinhardswald.
In the Werra-Meissner district, which is characterized by low mountain ranges, lies the Frau-Holle-Land geo-nature park with the Meissner-Kaufunger Forest, the Hohe Meissner and the Werra. Areas that are difficult to cultivate are mainly used by organic and part-time farms for the extensive cultivation of grassland by cattle and sheep. This contributes to the fact that a hotspot of biodiversity has formed in the Werra-Meissner district. 12% of the farms that submitted an agricultural application to the district in 2019 were organic farms, which cultivate 15% of the agricultural area organically. In the district Kassel 10 % were organic farms with a total area of 10 %.
In the administrative district of Cologne there are very different agricultural characteristics due to natural, climatic and structural conditions. Five sub-regions can be described: the Cologne-Aachener Bucht (Börde), Zülpicher Börde, the Eifel, the Bergisches Land, the Lower Rhine lowlands and the urban regions of Cologne/Bonn and Aachen.
Agricultural use in the area surrounding the cities of Aachen, Leverkusen, Cologne and Bonn competes strongly with the land requirements of other types of use such as settlement, transport and recreational areas. The loss of agricultural land is particularly high here. On the other hand, agriculture benefits from its proximity to consumers. Farmers have adapted to this and use the location with service offers, for example in the keeping of pension horses or direct marketing. Horticulture in the foothills between Bonn and Cologne was and is particularly typical.
The agricultural areas Eifel and Bergisches Land are strongly oriented towards livestock farming due to the natural and climatic conditions. In Bergisches Land more than 85 % of the land is used as grassland. The proportion of ecologically farmed land in the grassland locations is comparatively above average at more than 15 % of the area (NRW 6.3 % in 2016) - in the arable land locations of the authorities, on the other hand, it is negligible, generally below 1 %. The climatically favored locations with particularly valuable soils are generally used for intensive arable farming. Wheat, barley, rapeseed as well as sugar beet and potatoes are the determining fruits.
The scientific coordination of the regiosöl project lies with the IfLS, which is also involved in all work areas in an essential function. The other partners ZÖL and RWAG Rheinland are involved in all work areas to enable continuous joint knowledge acquisition and close coordination with actors in the regions. Their role is particularly important for the development of the recording, remuneration and optimisation approaches and their testing in the pilot regions. However, they also make significant contributions to dissemination and knowledge transfer by using their respective networks as multipliers. The role of RWAG Freiburg and Regionalwert Impuls GmbH lies in the further development of the regional value tools as well as in the acquisition of the companies and the testing and evaluation of the recording approaches at the company level.
The project 'Approaches for the assessment and remuneration of social and ecological benefits of organic agriculture at regional level' (regiosöl)
is supported by the Federal Organic Farming Program (BÖLN) with funds from the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) (duration: February 2020 to January 2023).