Faccioni, Georgia (2018) Ecosystem Services and sustainability evaluation of alpine dairy cattle systems. [Ph.D. thesis]
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Grazing livestock systems play a key role in the maintenance of mountain areas in Europe, contributing to human well-being through the creation of socio-ecological systems in which human activities shape ecosystems and are influenced by local and regional socioeconomic, environmental and cultural conditions. The alpine cattle husbandry is historically based on small herds of the local dual-purpose breed, usually hosted in closed barns located in the low valley, excepts for the summer period in which they are moved to high-pastures (summer farms). During last half of the 20th century, livestock husbandry in the alps had to face the impact of the processes of abandonment and intensification, which threaten the ecological functions of the mountain agroecosystems. Both trends involve land use changes, with the intensification occurring in valleys bottoms, whereas abandoned areas are mainly located at high altitudes and steep slopes. As a consequence, there are severe impacts on terrestrial, aquatic and aerial systems, a decrease in the number of farms and a progressive intensification of the remaining farms (larger herds, milk specialised breed, massive use of extra-farms feed). Issues related to livestock husbandry on food security, agroecosystem protection, biodiversity, animal welfare, social concerns and economic competitiveness, have emerged in the public and scientific debate, strongly demanding for a focus on the sustainability of the sector. Sustainability is defined as the use of available resources for meeting human development goals while maintaining the ability of natural systems to continue to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depend. It is composed of three parts, a social, an environmental and an economic one. Approaches as multifunctionality and Ecosystem Services have been developed to value the provision of additional function apart from commodity outputs to agroecosystems. Both concepts can be used to tackle the current need and social demand for a sustainable development of mountain agroecosystems. The term of Ecosystem Services defines all the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human well-being. They are categorised as provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services. However, if managed in an incorrect way, the ecosystem can react with what is defined as an Ecosystem Disservices (EDs), which has negative outcomes for society. The aim of this Ph.D thesis was to assess the multifunctionality of the alpine dairy cattle system in the Alpine agroecosystems, integrating the ESs framework into socio-economic approaches (choice model), and participatory approaches (questionnaire and focus group), involving and adding value to stakeholders’ opinions. This Ph.D thesis is composed of three chapters. The first chapter aimed at analysing, within the Ecosystem Services framework, the sociocultural and economic value of a number of positive functions of Alpine agroecosystems, in a context of simultaneous processes of intensification and abandonment. We first performed interviews with farmers and other local stakeholders (qualitative method) to explore the relationships between the dairy livestock systems and the environment. Then we developed a choice model to rank and value the most important functions of the current agroecosystems (dairy livestock systems and permanent crops) according to the views of local (residents of the study area) and reference (residents of the six neighbouring provinces) populations in three policy scenarios. Results showed that local stakeholders had a positive opinion of the outcomes of the mountain dairy livestock system. Regulation services, represented in the choice model by water quality, were found to be the most valuable for the well-being of society. Considering a hypothetical sustainable development scenario, people showed to be willing to compromise on production rather than cut back on environmental services. Besides, they rejected the current trend of intensification of permanent crops and dairy production with the consequent abandonment of summer pastures. It would be possible to take action to support the dairy sector and promote its sustainability since the Total Economic Value of Alpine agroecosystems calculated was €159.30 per person per year, which exceeded current expenditure on agroenvironmental programmes. The second chapter considered the farmer’s ambitions regarding their life and their farm and the connection between their objectives and the real management practices on the farm located in a mountain area. We performed a principal component analyses (PCA) and a cluster analysis on data coming from face to face questionnaires, identifying three factors (quality of life through diversification, environmental goals and economic goals) and three clusters (Diversification entrepreneurs, Traditional farmers and Planner farmers). The relationships among clusters, behaviours and data on their farm structure and management were tested. The analysis highlighted differences in farmer’s personal goals for their farms and trade-off between economic aspects and social sustainability that was to the detriment of the social sustainability. Significant differences among clusters were found when considering management variables related with the territory. The identification of the heterogeneity of farmers’ behaviour is a relevant starting point to achieve the sustainable development of the mountain farming system and for the application of participatory approaches. The third chapter aimed at investigating the relationship between local supply chains and ESs in Austrian and Italian mountain areas, understanding also to which extent the positive added values generated are communicated to society. In order to do so, we applied a stakeholder analysis, an online survey and a focus group for both the Italian and Austrian study areas. As in the first chapter, we found a general positive vision of the effects of the livestock production chain on the mountain environment and vice versa. Only Italian stakeholders identified a negative impact on the environment, concerning water quality. Common difficulties and opinions among stakeholders of both study areas were unravelled during the focus groups. Stakeholders expressed the need for a common network and of an increase in the collaboration among themselves, to generate a targeted communication of ESs linked to the territory maintenance of the dairy production chains in mountain areas. The results of this Ph.D thesis give interesting insights about the Ecosystem Services and sustainability evaluation of Alpine dairy cattle systems. The assessment through the use multiple tools of analysis, allowed stakeholders and researchers to improve the understanding of the relationship between human activities and the ecosystem and also to identify intervention points for problem solving.
I sistemi zootecnici giocano un ruolo fondamentale nel mantenimento delle aree montane Europee, contribuendo al benessere umano attraverso la creazione di sistemi socio-ecologici in cui le attività umane plasmano gli ecosistemi e sono influenzate dalle condizioni socioeconomiche, ambientali e culturali locali e regionali. Storicamente, l’allevamento zootecnico alpino si basa su piccole mandrie di razze locali a duplice attitudine. Durante la maggior parte dell’anno, le mandrie trovano riparo in stalle del fondo valle, mentre nel periodo estivo vengono trasferite nei pascoli a quote elevate, nelle malghe.
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