Collaborative agri-environmental governance in the Netherlands: A novel institutional arrangement to bridge social-ecological dynamics

E.C. Alblas*, J.A.W. van Zeben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The theoretical benefits of collaborative landscape-scale approaches to agri-environmental land management have been widely discussed. However, there is little empirical study of the practical governance mechanisms through which such collaborative management may be realized. In 2016, an innovative collaborative agri-environmental scheme was established in the Netherlands. In this scheme, “agricultural collectives”—i.e., groups of farmers organized as certified conservation organizations—are collectively responsible for the implementation of agri-environmental policies at the local level. With a focus on the Dutch model’s multi-level governance dimensions, this article examines how devolving important aspects of decision making on agri-environmental management to the level of a collective body of farmers shapes the implementation of agri-environmental policies on the ground. Based on new empirical data, we highlight the important roles of agricultural collectives in balancing trade-offs between ecological and social targets when setting environmental objectives, coordinating landscape-scale management, and contracting individual farmers. At the same time, the local embeddedness of agricultural collectives and close interpersonal ties can give rise to new governance risks that need to be considered, including goal divergence between the collectives and public bodies, as well as cases of prioritization of social interests over ecological interests in agri-environmental management. As we argue, combining governance through agricultural collectives with a high level of transparency regarding contracting decisions, as well as enhancing the inclusivity of the scheme through new funding opportunities for agri-environmental management, can optimize the benefits of these collectives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28
Number of pages18
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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