316 – Resources for agri-environmental schemes

I’ve been asked to present a talk in Ireland in two weeks, on the topic “The Design of Effective Agri-Environment Schemes”. In putting the talk together, it struck me that I (with help from colleagues) have developed quite a few resources in this space, so I’ve collected them on a new web site to make them easily accessible.

Agri-environmental schemes (or programs or policies) aim to reduce the adverse impacts of agriculture on the environment. There are many such schemes around the world, but often they are not very efficient or effective. We could often do a lot better if we did a smarter job of designing and implementing these schemes.

Not that it’s easy. There are so many aspects to consider: the effectiveness of different practices at reducing environmental damage, their attractiveness (or otherwise) to farmers, the mechanisms to be used to promote the best practices, the costs and risks of different approaches, which environmental issues are the priorities, and so on. In my view, most designers of agri-environmental schemes don’t appreciate what a difficult task they are trying to do, and make do with relatively quick and dirty approaches to the design.

The resources I’ve included on the web site address a wide range of relevant issues, including:

  • Lessons from past agri-environmental schemes
  • The selection of appropriate policy mechanisms
  • Measuring environmental values
  • Ranking projects, including the choice of an appropriate metric
  • Additionality
  • Understanding and predicting farmers’ adoption of new practices
  • Dealing with uncertainty and including systems for learning from experience
  • The need to pull off that together in a coherent framework

It includes journal articles, books, reports, frameworks, computer tools, web sites, and blog posts, plus links to my free online course on “Agriculture, Economics and Nature”.

Overall, if an organisation wanted to design and deliver an agri-environmental scheme that would really deliver outcomes, they could benefit greatly from the material on this site. The URL is www.resources4aes.net.

Further reading

Pannell, D.J. (2008). Public benefits, private benefits, and policy intervention for land-use change for environmental benefits, Land Economics 84(2): 225-240. Full paper (140K) * IDEAS page

315 – Shark conservation and demand for tourism in the Maldives

As I’ve noted previously, diving with wild sharks is a growing tourism industry. It has the potential to increase the demand for shark conservation, in order to maintain the economic benefits to tourism operators, and the benefits to tourists. Here we quantify these benefits in the Maldives, as well as the cost of worsening conservation.

The Republic of the Maldives is a small island nation in the central Indian Ocean. The country is composed of about 1200 islands of which 200 are inhabited, around 122 are assigned as resort islands, and the remainder are uninhabited.

Tourism dominates the nation’s economy, accounting for 27% of the gross domestic product in 2014. Diving and snorkelling are the most popular activities of tourists.

In 2010, a shark sanctuary was implemented in the Maldives when the declining status of shark fisheries and concerns over decreased shark sightings from divers encouraged the government to announce a total ban on shark fisheries in its waters. Today, shark populations are recovering in most, but not all, atolls.

However, the new regime is not without challenges. One is the ability of the government to actively enforce the ban on shark fishing. Another is the fact that it is still legal to sell shark jaws and teeth in tourist shops, creating an incentive for illegal fishing. Reef fishermen don’t like sharks eating their potential catch, and have been observed killing them.

On the other hand, conserving sharks is in the interests of dive operators and resorts.  Some resorts report illegal fishing activities to authorities and refuse to buy fish from fishermen that have landed sharks.

Led by PhD student, Johanna Zimmerhackel, we  investigated the link between shark conservation actions and economic returns from diving tourism. A survey-based approach (travel cost combined with contingent behaviour) was used to estimate the dive trip demand under different management scenarios.

Our results show that increasing shark populations could increase dive-trip demand by 15%, raising dive tourists’ welfare by US$58 million annually. This could result in annual economic benefits for the dive-tourism industry of more than US$6 million.

Conversely, in scenarios where shark populations decline from their current levels, where dive tourists observe illegal fishing, or if dive operators lack engagement in shark conservation, dive trip demand could decrease by up to 56%. This decline causes economic losses of more than US$24 million annually to the dive tourism industry.

These results highlight the dependence of the shark-diving industry on the creation and enforcement of appropriate management regimes for shark conservation. These results are important given the shameful over-exploitation of sharks in many parts of the world, particularly to satisfy the pointless demand for shark fins (flavourless cartilage) for shark-fin soup in Asia.

Further reading

Zimmerhackel, J.S., Rogers, A.A., Meekan, M.G., Ali, K., Pannell, D.J. and Kragt, M.E. (2018). How shark conservation in the Maldives affects demand for dive tourism, Tourism Management 69, 263-271. Journal web page  NOTE: The journal article can be downloaded for free, without subscription, until August 15.

Zimmerhackel, Johanna S & Pannell, David J & Meekan, Mark & Kragt, Marit E & Rogers, Abbie, (2016). Diving Tourism and Fisheries in Marine Protected Areas: Market Values and New Approaches to Improve Compliance in the Maldives Shark Sanctuary, Working Papers 243921, University of Western Australia, School of Agricultural and Resource Economics. IDEAS page