ALUS concept offers agricultural producers incentives to conserve sensitive natural areasThe Norfolk Federation of Agriculture (NFA) is proposing a pilot project for Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS), a conservation concept designed to improve the environment while fostering economic stability in the county's agricultural sector. In a 69-page document, the NFA proposes a nine-year, $7.6-million study of the concept.
"The ALUS proposal is designed to conserve environmentally sensitive areas by recognizing and rewarding farmers who deliver environmental benefits, such as cleaner water and air, abundant wildlife and an attractive rural environment for all to enjoy," Vic Janulis of the NFA explained. "ALUS is a win-win concept for agriculture and conservation interests, because it benefits both producers and the public, the idea is spreading like a grassfire across the country, with pilot project planning also underway in PEI, Manitoba and Saskatchewan," he added.
The ALUS concept was developed by Manitoba's largest general farm organization, Keystone Agricultural Producers, in co-operation with Delta Waterfowl, a conservation research organization. Agricultural and conservation interests led by the Norfolk County Land Stewardship Council, have been working on the ALUS proposal over the past two years. "We call ALUS 'the farmer's conservation plan' because it is designed by producers, and will be delivered through agricultural-based organizations and institutions across Canada," said Janulis.
In the first three-year phase, environmentally sensitive areas will be inventoried and contracts established with farmers to begin delivery of specific services. The proposal calls for farmers to share in the start-up costs and contribute about half of the land required for the project. Producers will be paid to maintain the services over the duration of the project. Environmental services will be audited by an independent, farm-based organization. The pilot proposal also includes a plan to evaluate social, economic and environmental benefits on the farm and in the county.
Four environmental service categories have been selected for study: wetland restoration; riparian zone enhancements to improve waterways; upland services including the planting of more grasses and tree cover; and wildlife services to enhance wildlife habitat and conserve species at risk in the county.
"Payment for environmental services is the cornerstone of the ALUS concept," said Dr Robert Bailey, policy vice-president for with Delta Waterfowl and co-author of the Norfolk pilot proposal. "The beneficiaries of clean water, air, safe food, fish, wildlife, pastoral rural environments and natural resources should share in the cost of producing these public resources on private farmland. Governments cannot regulate their way to a healthy environment."
NFA vice-president Bauke Vogelszang observed that new environmental regulations under legislation such as the Ontario Nutrient Management Act and the federal Species at Risk Act are placing the burden of conserving natural areas and wildlife habitat squarely on the back of private landowners. "We must broaden the base of conservation tools by including meaningful incentives for conservation on farmlands," he said.
Vogelszang further noted that ALUS fits well with the environmental component of the Agricultural Policy Framework (APF) developed by the federal government and provinces. It also complements the development of Environmental Farm Plans (EFPs) in Ontario and across Canada by adding annual incentives for landscape conservation.
Current programs offered under the EFP portion of the APF focus on environmental risk management and point sources of pollution, They offer producers cost-shared, one-time contributions to address environmental problems. EFPs serve to pinpoint fragile areas such as wetlands, riparian zones and wildlife habitats; without incentives, however, listing these sensitive areas is a potential liability for the farmer. There is far less risk in simply draining the wetland, or removing the habitat. ALUS advocates say this initiative is needed to complement regulations, APF policies and EFPs, to convert the environmental risk and liabilities into business opportunities on farmlands.
The ALUS proposal is timely because current economic pressures, such as the recent sharp downturn in the traditional tobacco industry in Norfolk County, the closing of global markets to Canadian cattle, low commodity prices
and rising costs of fuel, fertilizer and other inputs, are reducing farm income, and intensifying agricultural land use at the expense of the environment. The ALUS concept offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to expanding agricultural production to offset rising costs and declining markets, by creating new markets for environmental benefits that farmers can produce on a "fee for service" basis on their land.
The concept of environmental services is not unique to Canada, and models similar to ALUS are being used around the world to benefit agriculture and the environment. Payment for environmental services is acceptable under international trading rules, and the concept is growing globally through sponsorship by governments, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility and several others. Canada can use the ALUS model to find sustainable solutions to the long-standing environmental and farm income problems in rural communities.
More information is available from Vic Janulis of the NFA, 519/443-5828, E-mail VicJ@kwic.com; NFA vice-president Bauke Vogelszang, 519/443-8128; or Dr Robert Bailey at Delta Waterfowl, 613/283-6866, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.