Emerging findings from the PEGASUS project


by Anne Maréchal, IEEP

Reviewing the evidence gathered over almost 3 years of research in PEGASUS, this article presents a summary of the findings emerging from the project so far.

 PEGASUS, and therefore its findings, are drawn from a number of different strands of work:

  • an analysis of policy, market and institutional drivers in 10 countries;
  • the mapping work showing linkages between land management systems and the provision of public goods and ecosystem services; and,
  • the results of 34 case studies across the EU.

In the 34 PEGASUS case studies, ten PEGASUS teams investigated a variety of approaches taken by a range of stakeholders – such as farmers, environmental bodies, businesses, local, regional, national authorities, etc. – to incentivise the provision of public goods and ecosystem services in rural areas. For this, the teams have engaged in depth with the views and experiences of these different stakeholders. These “case study initiatives” provide a rich source of experience to inform thinking about how such actions can develop in the future, including within the Common Agricultural Policy.

Firstly, the initiatives and actions have generally sought to provide multiple benefits - economic, environmental and social benefits – in combination. These benefits can often be delivered more effectively when the approach and delivery mechanisms they rely on were chosen and designed in a collective effort from various key actors. Also, when these approaches are designed and implemented with a ‘territorial approach’ in mind (e.g. ensuring that actions are joined up over a geographic area) or when they are supported by different players along the same supply chain, then the initiatives are more likely to be effective and to deliver a more balanced set of outcomes.

We’ve also found in the case studies that a wide range of triggers (e.g. economic opportunities, environmental problems faced in a particular area / on a particular issue, etc.) can motivate the emergence of a collective initiative. However, in spite of very different origins, having good levels of trust, communication and cooperation between the actors of an initiative are critical ‘success factors’ for enabling the collective action to emerge and for it to be sustained and successful. Having strong local leaders is another critical success factor.

In PEGASUS, we have been interested in cases involving the private sector. In the case studies, we found that private-led initiatives can work well alongside publicly funded schemes in a mutually reinforcing way. For example, in Austria a group of mountain farmers produce organic ‘hay milk’. They receive policy support (income support as well as support for delivering specific environmental and social benefits) as well as a market premium for this quality product. However, there are also cases where private drivers conflict with policy objectives, sending conflicting signals to farmers and foresters. For example, in parts of Portugal, the olive grove production is highly intensively managed - an attempt to maximise economic returns in a competitive sector which comes at the expense of environmental and social considerations. A conclusion we draw from this is that it is important to identify and encourage cases where genuine synergies occur between commercial and societal objectives. This could involve running local surveys to examine potential market opportunities that would fit alongside national/regional environmental and social priorities. It may also involve the use of incentives for such joined up public-private to emerge, such as the use of positive selection criteria for funding.  

The way institutions are structured and operate also have a role to play in the emergence of initiatives aiming to enhance the provision of public goods and ecosystem services from agriculture and forestry. Adapting the institutional settings and governance to local conditions can play a leading role in building trust between stakeholders and with public authorities. For example this could be as much about rethinking the culture of controls and penalties as having the flexibility to adapt the way in which institutional support and engagement can be provided at the local scale. This appears to be especially important where market/economic factors do not provide a strong incentive for stakeholders to organise themselves to initiate action.

Public appreciation can be a powerful trigger for motivating action and cooperation. In some cases, it can be translated into economic or monetary terms, such as in the Estonian case study on a premium grass-fed beef label. In general, increasing the public’s appreciation of environmental and social goods and services from agriculture and forestry systems - and trying to transform this into an articulated demand - would help to increase their provision.

A hot topic in current policy debates is the issue of demonstrating that public funding is delivering its intended impact. It can be difficult to establish causal linkages between a management action on farms or in forests and the related environmental and social outcomes being delivered. This is particularly difficult when working over a short timescale. In the PEGASUS case studies and in our mapping work, we found this to be the case too. In this context, a shift towards more results-focussed schemes may simplify this issue to an extent. The search for appropriate indicators to assess whether or not the result is being achieved may not always be successful.

Finally, we have used a highly participatory approach to carry out the case study work. This has proven to generally be a useful method to capture some of the multiple interactions taking place between drivers, actors, practices and the outcomes delivered. It has nonetheless some limits, which are relevant more widely to many bottom-up, collective approaches – just like the case study initiatives we studied. Because participatory/collective approaches involve different people and dynamic relationships, they inevitably lead to a variety of methods being used and they focus on outputs attracting local support. Consequently, one limitation of the approach is the risk of important environmental or social needs being overlooked (especially when these are more difficult to address such as climate issues). For policy and practice, this could mean that using a bottom-up/collective approach in combination with some top-down guidance could be a successful way forward. 

In the coming weeks, the PEGASUS team will continue to develop these ideas to draft more operational recommendations addressed to policy-makers and practitioners. 

For more information, please read and cite: Maréchal A., Baldock D., Hart K., 2017. Key emerging findings from the PEGASUS project. Report published as part of the Horizon 2020 PEGASUS research project. Available at: http://pegasus.ieep.eu/