JOKIOINEN, FINNLAND/ During the
past years several environmental indicators were developed but still have a
minimal use for agricultural policy making in the European Union.
that have environmental protection purposes, are not cost-effective, says a
recent doctoral research.
More or less
A large number of different environmental indicators have been developed in recent years, including nitrogen balance, which indicates the agricultural loading of nutrients, and the number of field birds, which is used to measure the diversity of field nature.
Indicators are assumed to be effective and up-to-date tools that assist decision making and are tools able to simplify difficult process and conditions. Also are intended to provide accurate information about the things they are measuring and the parameters do not necessarily convey the information that is a key to decision making.
Anja Yli-Viikari, researcher of MTT Agrifood Research Finland, although indicators are giving positive turns for some environmental practices are far from being used as policy making tool.
“Environmental indicators have not had the sort of guiding impact in this development that was initially assumed; rather, routes for transferring and translating information into decision-making are much more complex,” points the researcher.
Yli-Viikari examined the use of sustainability indicators developed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry for natural resource management of Finland, as well as the international agri-environmental indicators adopted by the OECD and the European Commission.
As indicators are having a minimal use for decision making, the researcher believes that the oversimplification of complex clusters of problems lies behind the situation. For example, in the Environmental indicators in themselves, the impact of numbers is also minimal if there is little understanding of the significance of the information.
The purposes for which the indicators were created in agricultural policy and in many other social areas are requiring a multi-level treatment and wide-ranging study, where there is an appetite for achievement of quick results and superficial efficiency.
The misused of indicators has happened because decision-making is tending to be centralized. Right now, many agri-environmental issues of Finnish farms are now processed in Brussels. Consequently, an increasing amount of decision making is based on numbers. Keeping complete analysis away from further decisions.
As modern information society is strongly based on scientific data, there is a desire for agricultural policy decisions in the European Union, too, to be based on quantifiable and unambiguous facts. The researcher calls for a linkage between information and action, and for a more prominent value discussion.
“We need a discussion about which information is significant in terms of which problem. So far there has been very little value discussion at all, she notes. One topical issue is the reduction in meat consumption and the increase in vegetarian food.”
What to do?
According to the researcher, indicators are an effective administrative tool when there is clarity about what administrators wish to achieve and appropriate indicators for illustrating the matter.
“Indicators are a tool for implementation. But they cannot provide answers if there are not even clear questions,” Yli-Viikari sums up.