Learning How To Inform Extension Practices Related To Mandatory Agri-environmental Policy

Seale, Catherine Mary (2017). Learning How To Inform Extension Practices Related To Mandatory Agri-environmental Policy. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000c084


Despite the existence and application of mandatory agri-environmental policy for many decades, significant environmental sustainability issues remain attributable to the agricultural sector. Participatory types of extension practices seem to have a potential for assisting extension organisations to enhance the supports provided to farmers in relation to meeting the requirements of these policies. To test this idea, this thesis used a learning process approach for exploring the interplay between farmer subjectivities, the European Union’s policy of cross compliance and the extension practices of Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority of the Republic of Ireland.

Three learning sub-systems were employed in the investigation. The first used the principles of Participatory Action Research for revealing stakeholders’ perceptions of Teagasc’s cross compliance extension service. This process resulted in the attainment of rich insights about extension practices, however it also revealed that a significant number of farmers were experiencing social difficulties with the application and enforcement of cross compliance. To better understand the implications of these subjectivities, a second sub-system was created to learn about farmers’ experiences of the policy. This process surfaced diverse insights about farmers’ personal experiences of cross compliance. A final sub-system employed systems thinking and practice for appraising the utility of the learning arising from the previous sub-systems for improving interactions between farmers, extension organisations and cross compliance.

The combined findings suggest a considerable potential for extension organisations to use participatory practices for developing rich understandings of farmers’ preferences for mandatory agri-environmental policy and its related extension practices. A limitation in realising participant preferences is that extension organisations have little influence over the application and enforcement of mandatory agri-environmental policy. Overcoming this participatory barrier will require continued collective learning targeted at understanding how stakeholders can work together to develop agri-environmental policies that are socially, financially and environmentally sustainable.

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