Dutch Cooperative Approach fo Agri-Environment Adaptation to Climate Change

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* Report: The cooperative approach under the new Dutch agri-environment climate scheme. Background, procedures and legal and institutional implications. Paul Terwan et al. Ministry of Economic Affairs, NL, 2016.

URL = https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/sites/enrd/files/w12_collective-approach_nl.pdf


"A key role for agri-environment cooperatives in the Netherlands Anticipating the new scheme, Dutch farmers established 40 new agri-environment cooperatives, covering the entire countryside (see the map).

This is – for now – the final outcome of a long tradition of cooperative approaches to farmland biodiversity conservation. This tradition starts in the early 1990s, when – inspired by German and Danish examples – the first environmental cooperatives were founded. Up to 2015, some 160 regional cooperatives were established, many of them developing a broad range of rural development activities. All of these were legal entities, but they varied substantially in size (from several thousand hectares to over 100,000 hectares), in membership (many being open to citizens, some to farmers only), and in terms of professionalism. The prospect of a scheme based on the large-scale participation of cooperatives as applicants and final beneficiaries led to the awareness that a major reorganisation and professionalisation was needed.

From 2011 to 2014, the new approach was successfully tested in four pilot regions. The actual reorganisation took place in 2014 and 2015, resulting in 40 new cooperatives, in many cases established on top of the existing ones. The new organisational structure was a result of intensive consultation, both among cooperatives and with the national and provincial governments. In 2015, all the new cooperatives were established as legal entities and certified as conservation organisations. Although many of the original cooperatives are still active, their number is slowly decreasing due to a gradual transfer of activities to the new organisations."


"After the 2014 EU Rural Development Regulation introduced the option of group applications for agri-environment-climate measures (Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013, Article 28), the Dutch government decided to implement the measure for joint applications only. As of 2016, a new scheme was introduced in which individual applications are no longer possible. This approach fits within a long Dutch tradition of environmental cooperatives. Elsewhere in Europe, and even around the world, territorial cooperation and community-based approaches are also becoming increasingly common. A 2013 OECD report on collective delivery of environmental services offers many interesting examples.

This growing popularity does not mean that a cooperative approach to agri-environment is easily realised. Over the last years, the Dutch government has been in close contact with the European Commission to establish workable rules and regulations. In this paper we explain the “Dutch model” in further detail, we discuss the themes that needed special attention in terms of their implementation and compliance with EU regulations, and we describe the model’s relevance to other Member States.

Why did the Netherlands opt for a cooperative approach?

There are four main reasons why the Dutch government decided to introduce the option for group applications, and even to deal exclusively with cooperative applications.

First, in the course of the ongoing debate on the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes, it gradually became clear that the decline in farmland biodiversity can only be reversed through a cross-farm approach. This applies especially to farmland birds and ecological corridors, which are important conservation targets in the Netherlands. For this reason, the government opted for strong regional coordination and ecological guidance, creating a situation in which individual applications can even be detrimental to regional goals. The government expects that a cooperative approach will deliver better value for money, while farmers wish to ensure continued access to agri-environment budgets that would – in case of poor cost-effectiveness – be an easy target for budget cuts.

Second, there is an increasing need for greater flexibility in terms of the content of conservation activities, their exact location and their financial compensation. Because of the dynamics of farmland biodiversity (in relation to weather conditions, for example), a static scheme design without room for yearly or seasonal deviations would not be effective. Making cooperatives the final beneficiaries of agri-environment support allows for a simpler scheme design with room for local fine-tuning of activities and payments. Instead of extending the national list of approved conservation activities, an emphasis on conservation targets in combination with local fine-tuning by the cooperative and real-time notification of the actual conservation operations is expected to enhance entrepreneurship and ecological innovation. As the number of applications and beneficiaries is drastically reduced, this approach also enables the government to substantially reduce implementation costs.

Third, the previous individual scheme had a relatively high error rate. Working with cooperatives makes it possible to both simplify the administrative processes and to improve scheme compliance.

And last but not least: the Netherlands has a long tradition of agri-environment cooperatives, their number having grown to 160 over the last 20 years. They function as producer cooperatives for public goods and have become a trusted partner for farmers as well as governments. This means that the social structure for the new scheme design was already present; it only had to be professionalised and extended to the entire countryside." (https://enrd.ec.europa.eu/sites/enrd/files/w12_collective-approach_nl.pdf)