Five mechanisms blocking the transition towards ‘nature-inclusive’ agriculture: A systemic analysis of Dutch dairy farming

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CONTEXT As elsewhere in Western Europe, large scale intensive agriculture dominates the landscape of the Netherlands. Grassland for dairy production occupies more than a quarter of its land surface. The high production intensity on conventionally farmed grassland leads to poor habitat quality, resulting in sharp declines in bird and insect numbers. Nature-inclusive agriculture (NIA) comprises innovations in farm management, technology and resource use that have the potential to address farmland biodiversity decline, but few Dutch farmers implement these. OBJECTIVE We aim to analyze the adoption of NIA practices in the Dutch dairy sector. Specifically, we study the influence of the dominant agri-food regime on the innovation system for NIA. METHODS Innovation Systems Analysis was performed to identify the various structural barriers which hinder adoption. Our study used a multi-method design in which data on NIA in the Dutch dairy sector was collected via a literature study, four workshops and a focus group discussion. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS We identified five key blocking mechanisms that hinder adoption of nature-inclusive agriculture in the Dutch dairy sector: (1) insufficient economic incentives for farmers, (2) limited action perspective of many dairy farmers in the Netherlands, (3) lack of a concrete and shared vision for NIA, (4) lack of NIA-specific and integral knowledge and (5) regime resistance, which moreover is connected to each of the previous blocking mechanisms. Our analysis shows that one of the empirical novelties of this paper is that these blocking mechanisms are strongly interlinked in the Dutch dairy sector, thereby perpetuating a situation of lock-in. We conclude that in order to accelerate adoption of nature-inclusive farming practices, problems need to be addressed in conjunction with one another, and therefore holistic approaches are key. A second important conclusion is that in order to foster growth of the innovation system around NIA, the focus should not only be on innovation, but also on transforming current regimes, in particular the currently dominant economic paradigms of growth and yield maximization. SIGNIFICANCE By unraveling strongly interlinked blocking mechanisms, this paper provides intervention points to accelerate the transition towards NIA in the Netherlands. These intervention points are not only located within the innovation system, but should preferable be sought for in the broader structures and institutions of the dominant agri-food regime.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103280
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Agriculture
  • Agroecology
  • Biodiversity
  • Innovation studies
  • Innovation system analysis
  • The Netherlands


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