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The role of cross-compliance instruments in the prevention of soil erosion in Switzerland: interdisciplinary analysis of an on-going failure

Author Nicolas Derungs
Director of thesis Prof. Ellen Hertz
Co-director of thesis Prof. Edward Mitchell
Summary of thesis This study starts from the observation that more than twenty years of concerted efforts by Swiss soil management experts to improve soil management in Switzerland have failed to protect long-term soil fertility in this country. Reflecting the urgency of this problem, Swiss agricultural policy for the period 2014-2017 includes plans to strengthen soil protection measures against erosion by improving the efficiency of current agri- environment instruments. In this research project, we will investigate the efficiency and long-term stability of these “cross-compliance instruments” for soil protection by analysing: (a) the specific ways in which agricultural soil has failed to respond to them; (b) the complex network of authorities, experts and practitioners involved in their implementation; and (c) the farm enterprise as a dynamic, semi-autonomous system that is capable both of integrating and of deflecting them under specific circumstances. Our project is situated at the intersection of several fields of the biological and social sciences, and ties in with important applied issues. While the biological science on which soil conservation policy is based is currently relatively stable, alone it is clearly not powerful enough to induce the desired changes in human-soil interaction. Increasingly, experts are realising that this failure is likely due to poor understanding and operationalization of the social, not the natural science aspects of this interaction. Guided by the teachings of the sociology of translation, we analyse the implementation process as an actor-network, in which agri- environment instruments are the prime-mover (or quasi-object). We also draw on the cultural theory of risk to study how soil erosion is assessed by public authorities and perceived by farmers; the socio-anthropology of knowledge to confront the scientific and practical knowledge regimes involved; and the socio-anthropology of techniques to observe how measures to improve soil quality are transmitted and adapted by farmers. Our methods will be correspondingly interdisciplinary, involving human and soil science investigative techniques. The study will concentrate on two cantons (Neuchâtel and Fribourg) characterized by their different implementation strategies for soil protection. Eight farm enterprises located in four villages have been selected as a function of the occurrence of erosion on their farmland. Data will be collected through interviewing, observation, soil analysis and literature review. The project will be conducted over a 36-month period and take the form of a PhD thesis co-directed by Professor Ellen Hertz of the Anthropology Institute and Prof. Edward Mitchell of the Biology Institute, both of the University of Neuchâtel. A three-month period with the Centre of Sustainability (CSAFE) at the University of Otago, New Zealand, is planned during the write-up period, to gain expertise and feedback. Research results will be published as a PhD thesis, and as one article in a highly ranked professional journal, and another in a journal intended for a more general audience.
Status finished
Administrative delay for the defence 11/2018