Farmer typology, future scenarios and the implications for ecosystem service provision: a case study from south-eastern Spain

Abstract

Farming communities are increasingly expected to manage their agricultural activities in ways that ensure sustainable flows of a wide range of ecosystem services for society. The land use and management choices that farmers make are dependent upon their socio-economic characteristics and background, and in turn have important implications for the landscape and associated ecosystem services. Thus, a better understanding about the linkages between the characteristics of farmers, farm management and land use is important for managing multifunctional agro-ecosystems. In this paper, we first develop a typology of farmers for Torrealvilla catchment in Murcia, Spain, according to the characteristics of their households and farm management (e.g. the farmer’s age, household income, water access, land tenure and farm labour). This analysis distinguishes six types of farmers. Secondly, we analyse the link between farmer typology and the farmers’ responses to a number of scenarios. The scenarios describe different likely changes to agriculture in the catchment in terms of environmental constraints (irrigation water availability and rainfall pattern) and environmental policy regulation (water taxation and subsidies). This exercise enables us to explore the range of future land use changes that are likely to occur in the study area. The results indicate that: rain-fed agriculture is expected to experience gradual but extensive abandonment; vegetable/fruit farming and pig/animal rearing are likely to stagnate or even decline; and growing of grapes is likely to expand. Thirdly, we qualitatively evaluate how future land use changes are likely to affect key ecosystem services in the study area including future agricultural production and associated local income generation, erosion control, maintenance of the groundwater table and various cultural services associated with a heterogeneous agro-ecosystem. Particular changes such as expansion of grape production will increase food production and local income at the cost of further depletion of the aquifer and increased risk of salinisation. The outcomes of the study highlight that, to be effective, the design of agri-environmental schemes and other government interventions (e.g. specific compulsory regulations on farming practices and associated water use) should carefully take into account the characteristics of the farmers within the area of interest, their land uses and the possible diversity of responses to policy and environmental drivers. Opportunities exist for future studies quantifying the extent of the impacts of ecosystem service provision through formal models combining farmers’ land use decision-making and spatially explicit modelling of landscape processes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The majority of farmers involved in irrigated horticulture within the Torrealvilla sub-catchment rely on groundwater abstraction.

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Acknowledgments

The farmers are highly appreciated for their willingness to take part in the interviews. Joris de Vente and Carolina Boix-Fayos are thanked for insightful discussions about the study area and David Abson for inspiring discussions over the earlier versions of the paper. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. This study was funded by EU Framework 6 Desertification Mitigation & Remediation of Land—a Global Approach for Local Solutions (DESIRE) project (037046).

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Correspondence to Doan Nainggolan.

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Nainggolan, D., Termansen, M., Reed, M.S. et al. Farmer typology, future scenarios and the implications for ecosystem service provision: a case study from south-eastern Spain. Reg Environ Change 13, 601–614 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-011-0261-6

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Keywords

  • Farmer typology
  • Land use
  • Ecosystem services
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Future scenarios
  • Mediterranean agro-ecosystems