Knowledge Platform

Socioeconomic benefits from agricultural landscapes as a driver of regional competitiveness

Agricultural landscapes contribute to the development and competitiveness of rural regions. They hold the potential to provide private and public good-type landscape services which represent a resource not only for agriculture but also for other sectors of the rural society and economy, such as local inhabitants, forestry, tourism or the trade and services sector.

The services provided in agricultural landscapes become a factor of regional development and competitiveness by creating socio-economic benefits which support the rural economy in terms of agricultural income, population growth, employment creation, etc. However, the socioeconomic benefits, resulting from the use of landscape services often are multi-staged and multi-faceted and therefore difficult to assess.

The links between nature and its benefits for human society have been captured by numerous frameworks. Well known and well accepted are the ecosystem services framework and several adaptations of it. Often, the relations between ecosystems and human well-being are presented as a cascade, which runs from the biophysical structures and processes within an ecosystem, to the manifold services the ecosystem is capable to provide due to its condition and features, to the direct and indirect benefits and values for humans from the use of the services, to finally the development and competitiveness of a region as a result of the valuation of such benefits. Naturally, this graphic system is driven by various and complex cause-effect chains which characterised by diverse feedbacks and loops.

Particularly in agricultural landscapes, which are characterised by human interventions, the demand for ecosystem services strongly depends on the values human society assigns to the services and benefits provided. The valuation of services and benefits therefore is an important driver of how agricultural ecosystems are managed, whether currently or in the future.

Regional competitiveness

The term “regional competitiveness” is controversial. On micro-economic level, e.g. for firms or companies, “competitiveness” as a measure of economic viability is broadly accepted. In general, “competitiveness” can be defined as the ability to withstand market competition (EU, 1999b). Here, competitiveness is the ability to produce the right goods and services of the right quality, at the right price, at the right time in a competitive market, while meeting customers’ needs more efficiently and more effectively than other firms do. However, in a territorial context the reasonableness of measuring competitiveness is intensively discussed: applying the concept of competitiveness on regions implies an intern competition between them. Regions, failing to achieve the productivity of competing nations or regions, will face the same kind of crisis as a company that cannot match the productivity of its rivals. However, such a comparison is problematic, since goals and circumstances of regions and companies differ significantly and, furthermore, a region that does “not compete” will still not cease to exist and go out of business – like a non-competitive company. Therefore literature broadly reveals to go beyond measuring “economic competitiveness” of a region and include social competitiveness and sustainability in the definition of regional competitiveness. Also in the plenary stakeholder laboratory it was stressed, that the analysis of regional competitiveness has to consider knowledge, innovation, or entrepreneurial capacity of a region. Indicators of “regional competitiveness” should include economic facts like the income of the population, GDP, etc. as well as “social parameters” like demography, education, social capital, human capital and human-wellbeing in general.

References and further reading

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Costanza, R., d’ Arge, R., De Groot, R., Farber, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., Limburg, K., Naeem, S., O'Neill, R.V., Paruelo, J., Raskin, R.G., Sutton, P. and van den Belt, M. (1997). The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387: 253-260.

Courtney, P., Hill, G., Roberts, D. (2006). The role of natural heritage in rural development: an analysis of economic linkages in Scotland. Journal of Rural Studies 22: 469-484.

Courtney, P., Mills, J., Gaskell, P. and Chaplin, S. (2013). Investigating the incidental benefits of Environmental Stewardship schemes in England. Land Use Policy 31: 26-37.

De Groot, R., Alkemade, R., Braat, L., Hein, L. and L. Willemen (2010). Challenges in integrating the concept of ecosystem services and values in landscape planning, management and decision making. Ecological Complexity 6: 453-462.

Dissart, J.C. and Vollet, D. (2011). Landscapes and territory-specific economic bases. Land Use policy 28: 563-573.

ENRD (2010). Thematic Working Group 3: Public Goods And Public Intervention, Final Report. Brussels: European Network for Rural Development.

European Commission (1999a). Sixth Periodic Report on the Social and Economic Situation of Regions in the EU.

European Commission (1999b). Territorial competitiveness ‐ Creating a territorial development strategy in light of the LEADER experience, “Rural Innovation” Dossier 6 ‐ LEADER European Observatory.

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Haines-Young, R., Potschin, M. (2010). The links between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. In: Raffaelli, D.G., Frid, C.L.J. (Eds.), Ecosystem ecology: a new synthesis. Cambridge University Press. 110-139.

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van der Meulen, V., Verspecht, A., Vermeire, B., van Huylenbroek, G., Gellynck, X. (2011). The use of economic valuation to create public support for green infrastructure investments in urban areas. Landscape and Urban Planning 103: 198-206.

Van Zanten, B.T., Verburg, P.H., Espinosa, M., Gomez-y-Paloma, S., Galimberti, G., Kantelhardt, J., Martin Kapfer, M., Lefebvre, M., Manrique, R., Piorr, A., Raggi, M., Schaller, L., Targetti, S., Zasada, I., Viaggi, D. (2014). European agricultural landscapes, common agricultural policy and ecosystem services: a review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 34(2): 309–325.