It’s a free-for-all : who owns soil ecosystem services on agricultural land?
Abstract: Soils provide the foundation for human well-being but are increasingly degrading from land use change or types of intensive land use like agriculture. In Europe, soil natural capital is degrading over time and space because of compaction, erosion, and the loss of organic matter. This trend diminishes the soil’s ability to sustain a flow of ecosystem services, which are valuable to human well-being. To understand the reasons for soil degradation and therefore soil ecosystem services degradation is important because soils are a finite natural resource. Some reasons for soil ecosystem services degradation can be attributed to their status as both private and public good, insufficient quantification and their undefined economic value. Hence, some soil ecosystem services have not entered markets and are prone to overexploitation. Research has been conducted on the interrelation between ecosystem services and property rights in social-ecological settings, but little is known of how different property rights regimes can influence ecosystem services conservation. I investigate property rights for soil ecosystem services under European and German policy. Data is collected from interviews and a literature review and the qualitative data is analysed with QDA Miner Coding Software. The coded data is studied through the lens of John Locke’s theory of property and using ecosystem services as theoretical framework. First I investigate to what extent farmers have the right to appropriate ecosystem services from their agricultural land. I found that farmers cannot justify the appropriation of soil ecosystem services to full extent based on Lockean theory of property. Especially, a justification for regulating and cultural services is not possible. Next, I examine drivers that impact soil ecosystem services in Saxony. I found that farmers in Saxony are influenced by European legislation, hereby mainly Greening, Nitrates Directive and Cross-compliance. This results from their substantial dependence on direct payments for environmental and climate friendly measures under the Common Agricultural Policy. Consequently, farmers concede incisions in their property rights by accepting support payments under the Common Agricultural Policy. Public money is transferred to farmers in exchange for a contribution to meet the environmental and climate goals of the European Union. An appropriate property rights allocation in the future will depend on what society deems as acceptable in soil ecosystem services conservation.
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