Two farmers driving a tractor.
Photo by Franz W.

By Irina Vortkamp and Frank Hilker.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

Biodiversity loss is an increasingly pressing problem, and a variety of measures are implemented worldwide to mitigate, stop or revert it. The task is particularly challenging in agricultural landscapes, the main place for human food production. One third of the overall EU budget is spent to support farmers, inter alia, for environmentally friendly farming and delivering public goods. At the same time, farmers’ displeasure about an overload of requirements regarding productivity and environmental contributions has never been so great. How is it possible that an international program misses the needs of people so much?

We suppose that agri-environment schemes are often set up under simplistic assumptions, not accounting for that fact that farmers are not only profit-maximizers but humans with social identities. Many empirical, qualitative studies already show that non-pecuniary factors affect farmers’ behaviour, but the integration in quantitative studies is still sparse.

We make a contribution by developing and analyzing a socio-economic simulation model. Our simulations suggest that social norms can delay or even inhibit the participation in agri-environment schemes which runs counter to the belief that compensation will sort things out. As a consequence, AES should be preferably designed such that farmers are involved with their knowledge and skills to use synergies between societal goals and nature conservation.

Our approach is valid not only in the context of agriculture but can be seen as a call to model human behaviour in economic contexts in a more appropriate manner.