Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Resource Economics

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Thaer-Institute | Resource Economics | Research challenges | Problem dimensions | Environmental Impact of Agricultural Production and Different Cultivation Systems

Environmental Impact of Agricultural Production and Different Cultivation Systems

The agricultural sector has a key function to ensure global food security. On the one hand, intensive agricultural production allows a steady increase of global harvests and provides and increases security of supply. On the other hand, the agricultural economy, compared with other economic sectors, has the greatest impact on the use of natural resources that may often lead to exploitation and degradation, but also to its preservation. Intensive agricultural production based on high input of chemicals and energy often leads to increasing uniformity, both regarding the products and the modes of production. Negative externalities such as loss of natural habitats by the expansion of agricultural land and the associated impact on biodiversity, soil degradation such as erosion, depletion and pollution of natural water resources and climatic changes are only a few examples of this problem area. Global value chains and the associated environmental burdens add new challenges at local and global level. Developments such as rising living standards in growing economies and increasing population, extended use of renewable energy from biomass and climate change reinforce these challenges.

This results in important research issues Institutional Resource Economics has to address as it deals with the systems of rules and relationships between actors influencing the use of natural resources. Appropriate social rules and the expected economic use of natural resources have a significant influence on the forms of intensive agricultural production and its environmental consequences. The cultivation of genetically modified crops (GM crops) in European agriculture opens up a new problem dimension. As the actors involved hold different interests on this issue and frame the problem accordingly, there is a fundamental need for addressing the question of rivalry and coexistence in this context. Already back in 2003, the European Commission published recommendations on how to conceptualize the coexistence between the different agricultural production systems – conventional, organic and GM crop farming. In the context of these guidelines, farmers and consumers shall be given the freedom of choice to select between these three options.

According to the European guidelines, coexistence is defined as a merely economic issue, including only those GM crops which have obtained a market approval through positive risk assessment. In line with Regulation 1830/2003, a labelling threshold of 0.9% for adventitious and technically unavoidable GM traces applies. In order to guarantee lower GM traces and thus to prevent the produce from being labelled, several measures can be taken, such as the installation of isolation distances between neighbouring maize fields which reduce the probability of cross-pollination. According to the German Act on Genetic Engineering (Gentechnik-Gesetz, GenTG), isolation distances of 150 m between a GM maize field and a conventional maize field apply in Germany. This distance is increased up to 300 m between a GM maize field and an organic maize field reflecting a higher degree of protection of organic produce from GM traces.

From a scientific point of view, the question arises whether the actors involved in Germany actually hold the same perception on coexistence as the European Commission. An entirely new institutional framework may be needed to reconcile all interests. This problem dimension is addressed in subproject 11 on cooperative and hierarchical forms of institutional change in the case of GM crop cultivation in Germany, which is part of the DFG-funded cooperative project “Structural Change in the Agricultural Sector (SiAg)".


This problem dimension has been addressed in the following research projects:

    Labour Organization and the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management
  • SIAG
    FG 986: Structural Change in Agriculture - Sub-project 11: Cooperative and Hierarchical Forms of Institutional Change (SIAG)

Consmüller, Nicola

Structural Change in Agriculture - TP 11: Cooperative and hierarchical forms of institutional change (SIAG)

Kutschke, Andreas (extern)

New Political Economy of Determination and Assessment of Airborne Emissions and Immissions from Animal Husbandry Facilities in the German Approval Process Practice

von Bock und Polach, Charlotte (2010)

Relevance of Social Capital and Social Networks for Temporary Migration of Polish Seasonal Labour – The case of asparagus farms in Brandenburg (Germany). Institutional Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Vol. 43. Aachen: Shaker

Irawan, Evi (2009)

The Effect of Farm Labor Organization on the Adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Hernández, José (2011) 

Analysis of Economic Driving Forces in Crop Protection. A case study of apple production in the EU

Beckmann, Volker

Essays in Institutional Analysis. Application to Economic Transition, Technology Adoption and Environmental Governance in Agriculture

Srinivasa Reddy Srigiri

In Pursuit of Effective Governance Structures and Institutions for Abatement of Urban Pollution: Industrial pollution in Hyderabad