Executive summary CRP V4-2020 Improving the processes of knowledge transfer and monitoring in the field of environmental and nature protection in agriculture
A comprehensive understanding of knowledge and learning processes is crucial for implementing agricultural practices that align with environmental and nature conservation goals. Familiarity with and acceptance of environmental objectives by farmers are essential prerequisites for the successful adoption of environmentally friendly agricultural technologies, the application of higher environmental standards (e.g., organic farming) in market positioning, and participation in environmental measures of agricultural policy, such as Agri-environmental measures. Emerging needs necessitate changes in traditional areas of operation and the structure of advisory services, evident in the expansion of competencies among agricultural advisors and the inclusion of new disciplines and organizations. Consideration is also required for alternative knowledge transfer methods that are more holistic and tailored to local needs.
In Slovenia, only a handful of studies have been conducted on the effectiveness and efficiency of knowledge transfer, including in the realm of environmental and nature conservation. Research on farmers' decision-making regarding participation in agri-environmental measures indicates that advisory support and the opinions of agricultural advisors are among the most influential factors affecting farmers' engagement in these measures. However, there is considerable dissatisfaction among stakeholders and farmers in Slovenia with the existing knowledge transfer system. Efforts have primarily focused on informing about the requirements of measures, with fewer capacities dedicated to educating about environmental issues and the purposes and goals of individual measures. This is reflected in farmers' relatively poor understanding of the objectives of agri-environmental measures, declining interest in participating in agri-environmental measures, and untapped marketing potential of environmental 'standards' in agricultural production.
The project aimed to enhance the result-oriented focus and quality of monitoring and evaluating agricultural policy measures that promote knowledge transfer in the field of environmental and nature conservation in agriculture. Through a comprehensive analysis, we sought to test the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of new knowledge transfer approaches in the field of nature and environmental conservation in agriculture. The project also aimed to establish a system of indicators and methodology for evaluating agricultural policy measures. It was based on intensive collaboration with the Public Service of Agricultural Advisory and included various activities to transfer the project's results and experiences into the practice of agricultural advisory services in Slovenia.
Key project messages
1. Knowledge transfer measures and programs should be strategically planned.
In line with the methodologies employed in directing agricultural development, the planning of communication and knowledge transfer must align with the principles of intervention logic. While this approach is integrated into the planning processes of the agricultural policies in accordance with EU regulations, its active utilization as a tool to support planning and decision-making in Slovenian agriculture has not been fully internalized. In the context of knowledge transfer within the realm of environmental and nature conservation, as addressed by this project, this implies that planning improvements should entail a thorough analysis of the current situation and needs. Based on this analysis, specific goals should be established, serving as the foundation for the selection of knowledge transfer methods, the implementation of programs, and the evaluation of their effectiveness.
Project contributions and key results: We have developed a comprehensive system of indicators to monitor the outcomes and impacts of knowledge transfer measures in agriculture. Furthermore, we conducted pilot testing for the developed monitoring system. In two cases, we applied the innovative and advanced experimental methods for assessing knowledge transfer measures. These methods facilitate a robust quantification of causal relationships between interventions and their respective effects.
2. Gradual introduction of new approaches and methods for knowledge transfer is essential.
The imperative to enhance the execution of knowledge transfer in the field of environmental and nature conservation in agriculture is most pronounced, particularly in the obligatory training for farms engaged in the agri-environmental measures and organic farming. We advocate for the phased implementation of newer knowledge transfer methods that enable a more complexed and targeted approach to tackle agri-environmental practices and issues. These methods encompass demonstration activities, participatory workshops, and comprehensive individual advice aimed at formulating sustainable farm production plans. Noteworthy advantages of these advisory forms include group learning, collaborative engagement of diverse stakeholders, collective action, and the empowerment of farmers.
Project contributions and key results: Through the implementation of a randomized controlled experiment, we empirically demonstrated that knowledge transfer in the form of participatory workshops increases farmers' competence and their readiness to adopt climate-friendly practices.
An important aspect of knowledge transfer involves informing farmers about voluntary measures in agri-environmental policy (AEMs, OF, and ES). It is sensible to conduct future research to assess the effectiveness of diverse methods of information dissemination—such as printed materials, personal invitations by mail, and informational lectures—and the communication strategies employed in presenting these measures.
Project contributions and key results: By employing a randomized controlled experiment, we demonstrated that personally addressed information (in our case, a description of the new measure sent by mail) positively influences farmers' decisions to enrol in new measures for biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, our findings indicate that presenting the effects of the measure in either a positive (highlighting benefits) or negative (emphasizing potential losses) manner does not impact farmers' decision-making.
When implementing new knowledge transfer methods, it is important to recognize that there is no singularly most appropriate or universally suitable approach or method for knowledge transfer that can cater to the diverse knowledge needs in the agri-environmental field. Various approaches and methods constitute a broader spectrum of advisory support to farmers, and their selection should be guided by the specific goals of knowledge transfer. These objectives ought to be derived from environmental and nature conservation requirements, alongside a comprehensive analysis of users' needs, namely, the farmers.
Project contributions and key results: To facilitate the planning of upcoming knowledge transfer activities in Slovenian agriculture, we have conducted a comparative analysis of different forms (mass, participatory, and individual) of approaches and methods for knowledge transfer in agriculture. Through a manual tailored for agricultural advisors, we systematically delineated their characteristics and supplemented the descriptions with illustrative examples of best practices from both abroad and Slovenia. The manual is organized to aid decision-making regarding the most suitable method in a given context, guiding users through key phases of planning and implementing knowledge transfer activities in agriculture in a step-by-step manner.
3. It is important to boost the competence of agricultural advisors and other professionals in the field of environmental and nature conservation, along with the implementation of participatory knowledge transfer methods.
The Slovenian Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation System (AKIS) has experienced a substantial decline in budgetary allocations for research, development, agricultural advisory services, and professional services in agriculture over the past decade. This decline is most obvious in the domain of the public service of agricultural advisory. Addressing the intricate challenges and necessary transformations in the scope of environmental and nature conservation in agriculture appears unlikely without a systematic increase in funds for research, development, and education. Furthermore, the systematic training of personnel within AKIS with new knowledge becomes imperative for these transformative changes. This entails modifications to educational programs in secondary schools and higher education institutions, as well as the training of the agricultural advisors in the field of environmental and nature conservation. Such initiatives could contribute to a better understanding of the importance of introducing agricultural practices that positively impact the state of nature and the environment.
Project contributions and key results: As part of the project, we contributed to the establishment of a group of agricultural advisors specializing in nature conservation. In terms of demonstration and educational activities on farms, we prepared and conceptually justified the possible design of such activities in Slovenia. The conceptual framework comprises three fundamental types of farms: educational farms, master farms, and demonstration training centres. Moreover, educational farms are further categorized into three subgroups: didactic, demonstration and mentoring.