Topic: Digital maps in social processes to address land fragmentation in agriculture
Keywords: Farmland; fragmentation; farmers; owners; social processes; digital maps
Developments in machinery, market and policy has led farmers to pursue expansion of farmland. This has resulted in a situation with fewer farmers operating plots on many different places. Since options for extra plots through renting or purchase often emerge unexpectedly, the resulting land use pattern in an area becomes fragmented over time. Negative impacts of such fragmentation are increased costs, GHG emissions and traffic on roads. Even though there may be benefits of operating fields in different zones (e.g. extension of harvesting season), the overall effect is disadvantages. In the project Landfrag we address land fragmentation through a transdisciplinary approach involving different research disciplines (map expertise, agricultural economics, social scientists) and local actors (authorities, advisors, farmers’ organizations). The aim is to obtain clearer knowledge about to what extent farmers experience problems and their view on eventual local interventions. Moreover, in cooperation with local actors we test concepts for local meetings for farmers and owners. In such local meetings, we have used digital maps as a facilitating tool. Based on combining two ‘big’ data sources, the land resource map (AR5) and the farmer record (‘produsentregisteret’), it is possible to produce digital maps showing which fields are used by which farmers, actual roads and distances in a local area, for example parts of a municipality. In the project we have observed that such tailored maps raise interest and develop knowledge among local actors about the problem and possible actions. Such maps can also be used to simulate redistribution of land and potential advantages. However, it is crucial to realize that application of digital technology is socially situated, and that attempts at altering the distribution of land among farmers and owners is a sensitive, social issue as much as a technical topic. The social aspect includes issues such as who the farmers and owners have relations to (relatives, friends, neighbours) and the social structure in the local communities (the composition of small and big farms for example). Nevertheless, we observe that farmers expect initiatives to be taken to reduce problems stemming from land fragmentation. Hence, an aim of the project is to develop recommendations as to how local actors can approach farmers and owners, arrange meeting arenas and follow up. Such work is ultimately sociotechnical in that social competence and technical aids, such as digital maps, must work hand in hand.