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Polycentric Governance and Spatial Misfits in the Water-Food Nexus – The Case of Groundwater Nitrate Concentrations in Agricultural Hubs in Germany

Environmental Policy
Governance
Policy Analysis
Malte Möck
TU Braunschweig
Malte Möck
TU Braunschweig
Colette S. Vogeler
TU Braunschweig
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Abstract

International competitiveness in agricultural and especially livestock production is reached by intensification and the regional concentration of production facilities, which leads to growing pressure on water and soil resources. In many regions the maximum allowable limits of nitrate in groundwater resources are exceeded, partly as a consequence of the increased use of fertilizer and spreading of manure (Oelmann et al. 2017). An extreme case is Germany that has been brought before the European Court of Justice in 2016 for not complying with the legal thresholds of nitrate in groundwater. Despite the close linkages between water and food, policymaking is traditionally divided between the two subsystems, policies are often formulated independently without considering impacts on the other system. Neglecting these linkages negatively affects the sustainability of water and food resources and leads to increased environmental and economic costs. Nexus research aims at overcoming such sectoral divisions of policy areas. To understand, what drives the governance of those resources apart and what reconnects them; insightful approaches refer to the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework (Villamayor-Tomas et al. 2015). Among the major achievements in polycentric governance research is an analytical access to spatial organization of political goods. Preferences for subdivided or overlapping, centralized or decentralized arrangements are subject to empirical assessment. Both, the social and the physical world shape action situations, but recent applications, especially within the Social Ecological Systems Framework, highlight the consequences of and for location and mobility of common pool resources (Baggio 2016). Tying in with the literature on social-ecological system fit (Epstein et al. 2015; Ingold et al. 2018), we argue that a major challenge to the sustainable management of both, food and water resources is the spatial distribution of institutions within the two subsystems. Differences in localization, extent and dynamic of resources are main drivers of spatial misfits between ecosystem and multi-level governance on the one hand and between the sectors of agriculture and water management on the other. Studying two regions in Germany with extremely high levels of intensification in agricultural production and the worsening of groundwater relating thereto, we show that policymaking is still relatively unconnected between agricultural and water policy. References Baggio, Jacopo A et al. (2016) Explaining Success and Failure in the Commons. The Configural Nature of Ostrom's Institutional Design Principles, in: International Journal of the Commons 10 (2), 417-439. Epstein, Graham et al. (2015) Institutional Fit and the Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems, in: Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 14, 34-40. Ingold, Karin et al. (2018) Misfit between Physical Affectedness and Regulatory Embeddedness: The Case of Drinking Water Supply Along the Rhine River, in: Global Environmental Change 48, 136-150. Oelmann et al. (2017) Quantifizierung der landwirtschaftlich verursachten Kosten zur Trinkwasserbereitstellung, Umweltforschungsplan des Bundesumwelministeriums. Villamayor-Tomas, Sergio et al. (2015) The Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus through the Lenses of the Value Chain and the Institutional Analysis and Development Frameworks, in: Water Alternatives 8 (1), 735-755.