Lessons learnt from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia
The experience of three NGOs working in three of the new member states – Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, provided valuable insights of the processes related to the development of policy measures aiming to support HNV farming in countries with similar socio-economic conditions prior to accession.
A number of common elements related to policy development interactions emerged:
NGOs were and still are the proactive partner in the proposal and design of HNV farming related measures. NGOs have to find the most appropriate way to talk to decision makers at national level in order to present their ideas. In the EU accession process, a very valuable support in this direction was provided by the European Commission who was always looking for the opinion of NGOs and putting relevant pressure on the national ministries.
The link from local to national and European levels is a very important one and requires equal commitment to all levels. At national level, work with like-minded NGOs in coalitions always brings more fruitful results: brings in diverse experience from more local areas, builds stronger civil society and has more powerful position in negotiation with government.
The presentation of the policy measures always has to consider the benefits to the Ministry and preferably to be linked to some ongoing policy process. In most cases nature conservation goals have to be presented without explicitly mentioning them (Cierna-Plassman, 2011). In the period prior to EU accession NGOs are often seen as reliable sources of expertise and knowledge than watch-dogs by both the ministries and the EC.
Whenever possible, simple solutions within the existing systems are preferred because on the one hand, the negotiations with institutions take a long time and, on the other, complicated measures are more difficult to grasp by the final users – the farmers. Adept designed farm record sheets adopted by the Ministry which are easy for farmers to complete and at the same time reduce the risk of failure.
Other key elements in the NGOs – ministries interactions are related to the use of good local data and examples which allow realistic and reasoned justification of the proposals. The national grassland inventory made by Daphne played a crucial role in the targeting of grassland measures in Slovakia.
Work with local communities requires a holistic approach. It involves regular meetings and participation in public debates, discussions and hearings. BSPB provides advocacy support to local coalitions as well as support for local promotion initiatives related to traditional foods and products from HNV farming systems.
Adept engaged in combating hygiene regulations for small producers by organizing village milk collection points, by clarifying EU regulations in a way that is not damaging small-scale farmers viability and last, but not least, this clarification provides authorities the confidence to apply flexible approach to small-scale producers.
As a result, there are 9 Milk Collection Points serving over 170 farmers, and over 700 cows. The benefits are for both biodiversity (1500 ha of grass maintained by grazing/mowing) and business (negotiations with processors for better prices linked to quality and quantity).
All three NGOs provided advisory support to farmers using mobile teams providing information on funding mechanisms and application process, on farm biodiversity and simple explanation of the “revolutionary agri-environmental measures”. This regular contact ensures a personal approach to every farmer and farming situation and gains credibility at local level. It also enables the ongoing monitoring of the implemented schemes or measures. It also improves significantly the delivery of the measures.