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Welcome to the Agri-Environment Action managed by the Monitoring Agricultural Resources Unit of the JRC Institute for Environment and Sustainability

Integration of Environment Concerns into AGriculture

Farming is the most dominant and dynamic land use type, agriculture is shaping half of European landscapes by providing large seasonal, functional and structural variations that impact on key components of the biosphere (soil-water-vegetation-air). To its primary function of food production several others are intrinsically linked, relative to the creation and maintenance of suitable habitats for biodiversity and structural/functional features of the landscape, and to the support of a diverse rural community.

Agriculture plays an essential role in maintaining the environment in a healthy state; the links between the natural environment and farming practices are complex, though. Farming and nature, in fact, exercise a profound influence over each other: on one side farming has contributed over the centuries to creating and maintaining a variety of valuable semi-natural habitats which now host a relevant part of European biodiversity and often represent an important cultural heritage, on the other agricultural practices can also have an adverse impact on natural resources. Pollution of soil, water and air, fragmentation of habitats and loss of wildlife can be the result of inappropriate agricultural practices and land use. Run-off from agriculture will impact the water quality of streams and rivers, but also costal zones and the marine environment will be affected.

Vineyards in Piemonte, Italy - © 2004 - M.L.Paracchini

The Helsinki strategy for integrating environmental concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) by underlining the multifunctional character of agriculture has set the goals for a closer integration of environmental aspects and sustainable development into agriculture: it encompasses environmental requirements (cross-compliance) and incentives integrated into the market policy, as well as targeted agri-environmental measures that form part of Rural Development Programmes. The role that farmers in the management of natural resources and landscape conservation is highlighted and enhanced; farmers are supported in this sense by targeted rural development measures and by contributing to securing farming profitability in the different regions of the European Union. Given the importance (in coverage and budget) of the Common Agricultural Policy instruments underpinning these objectives, designing and evaluation of measures have to rely on objective tools, supported by robust scientific evidence.

Furthermore, the CAP Health Check proposed by the European Commission includes new challenges that have become urgent in the last few years and that can be met within Rural Development Policies: climate change, more efficient management of water, bioenergy and preservation of biodiversity. The linkage between the payments farmers receive and the farmers' obligations in the areas of environment has also to be analysed and better understood. All this brings to the forefront the need to correctly assess the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of policy measures for their impacts on the environment. This Action works towards these objectives, in particular through developing ex-post and ex-ante sustainability assessment procedures; such procedures are based on spatially targeted data and are underpinned by geo-spatial modelling, linked through integrating informatics tools. Fundamental objectives are as well scientific networking and dissemination of successful tools and methods.


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