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Farmers can help urban dwellers control flooding

Farmers can adapt their land use to help city dwellers control flooding, but the farmers require the right financial incentive, a Danish research project shows.

2015.04.29 | Janne Hansen

For the sake of controlling flooding in cities, farmers with land along a river could allow their farmland to be flooded periodically. (Photo: Colourbox)

For the sake of controlling flooding in cities, farmers with land along a river could allow their farmland to be flooded periodically. (Photo: Colourbox)

How would farmers with land along a river feel about being asked to allow their precious farmland to be flooded periodically for the sake of controlling flooding in cities further along the same river? This is a question scientists from the Department of Environmental Science at Aarhus University have dealt with in the EU research project “Bottom-Up Climate Adaptation Strategies for a Sustainable Europe” (BASE). Results from the project will be presented at the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference (ECCA 2015) in May 2015 in Copenhagen.

"Our results indicate that farmers on average would prefer not to enter a contract. However, if they were to agree on a contract, they would prefer to receive compensation for lost crops and negotiate collectively with other farmers. As expected, they would also prefer higher rather than lower annual payments," says senior researcher Marianne Zandersen from the Department of Environmental Sciences at Aarhus University.

A contract that would allow for compensation based on individual negotiation would on average require a yearly payment of between 250 and-447 euros per ha, depending on the negotiated contract. The data did not show a significant preference for or against a requirement to grow flood resistant crops.

Collaboration needed between farm and urban interests

The background for the study is that Northern Europe is experiencing an increasingly wetter climate, which is leading to more frequent and severe flooding from rivers. Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is becoming recognised as a valuable yet under-utilised means of alleviating the negative effects of a changing climate.

Ecosystem-based adaptation necessitates a new and different type of collaboration between landowners and stakeholders interested in protecting urban structures. As a result, novel ways of understanding and organising EbA are emerging across Europe. An example, using the approach of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), is the one that will be presented at ECCA 2015 by Marianne Zandersen and her colleagues from Aarhus University.

"Farmers along the second longest river in Denmark, Storåen, could be instrumental in protecting urban infrastructures from flooding by allowing flooding on their farmland. The question is how willing the farmers are to do so," says Marianne Zandersen.

The researchers conducted a survey among farmers located in the vicinity of Storåen in order to assess their willingness to accept a contract that would allow the local town of Holstebro to periodically flood farmland in order to avoid or limit urban flooding from the river. The aim was to estimate the cost of getting farmers to participate in the scheme, which would represent a portion of the cost of reducing climate change impacts in Holstebro.

Farmers were asked to select between either no contract or contracts characterised by a set of positive and negative attributes, including whether or not to require specific flood resistant crops or not, whether to allow for compensation in case of crop loss or not, the type of negotiation situation, and, finally, the level of payment to the farmer for including his land in the inundation control scheme.

This type of analysis investigates attitudes and preferences of land owners, which are essential when dealing with Ecosystem-based Adaptation. Past experience shows that without the agreement of landowners or the appropriate compensation level, voluntary schemes will not function at the necessary scale.

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