Estimating the costs and benefits of soil conservation in Europe

J.W. Kuhlman, A.J. Reinhard, A. Gaaff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Economics is about problems of choice. In erosion control, both public authorities and private land users are faced with such problems. What is the impact of erosion, both on-site and off-site, and to what extent can this impact be quantified? If we conceptualize this impact in terms of sustainability, how can we compare one type of effect against another? The former question can be answered only by natural scientists, the latter by economists and other social scientists. Weighing different aspects of sustainability requires value judgments, and economists are sometimes accused of having a jaundiced view of reality, wrongly supposing that decisions are based on rationality and denying the importance of emotion. However, let us assume that there is some mileage to be gained out of attempting to estimate the cost of erosion in an economic sense-which consists of converting the various effects into a common denominator: euros. If we can predict the impact of erosion control measures on erosion rates, we can know the benefit of these measures. The cost also needs to be calculated, not in terms of money but in terms of resources expended (which could have been used for other purposes) and in terms of possible negative impacts of erosion control (for instance, increased use of herbicides in reduced-tillage systems). There are important other considerations which economists may study. Firstly, there is the comparison of present versus future costs and benefits: how much can we sacrifice today for higher sustainability tomorrow? Secondly, there is the issue of private versus public costs and benefits: how do the goals of private land users differ from (those of?) the public good, how can this help us to predict land users¿ behaviour, and what incentives would be appropriate to make them behave in such a way as to maximize the public good? Thirdly, how do we deal with uncertainty and risk? These problems loomed large in a study to support an extended impact assessment for the EU Soil Thematic Strategy, in 2005. Whereas much research has been done on erosion and its impact, much of this is on a small scale. The extent of the problem on a national, let alone a continental or a global scale, is still poorly known. The paper discusses how these problems were faced, which is not the same as saying they were resolved
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-32
JournalLand Use Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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