Our current case study within the Just Scapes project (see https://sustainablecz.org/2021/05/03/launching-the-just-scapes-project/) in Slovácko and Valašsko regions focuses on exploring the relationship between people’s willingness to accept and implement transformative changes in landscapes around them and their perception of environmental justice of these changes. In particular, we are interested in landscape changes related to climate change adaptation and tree cover in agricultural landscapes (alleys, hedges, forest patches, etc.), looking at the links between nature, landscape, and society.
The Slovácko and Valašsko cultural landscape is defined by hilly and vast rural areas studded by small-scale groves, meadows, forests and steppes of a great biodiversity value significance. Slovácko is also the Czech’s driest and hottest area.
In the first stage of the case study we went to the two Moravian regions, where we conducted a field stay to explore the physical and contextual space within which the potential land-related and social transformation takes place.
We spent nearly two weeks in the area, visited five villages and conducted a number of interviews with the locals (farmers, landowners and members of local government) to find out more about their perspective of just landscape and societal transformation, of their daily routine concerning their agricultural work and of the desirable changes in the countryside. I was also interested in the role of agricultural subsidies alongside with the barriers and the benefits they potentially create for farmers and landowners, as well as their impact on agricultural landscape use and the farmers’ and landowners’ daily routines.
The field trip has identified several key topics flagged by the stakeholders, namely agricultural funding and subsidies, land consolidation and justice issues.
Agricultural funding and subsidies
For areas with a long history of extensive agriculture, funding is, thanks to its social-ecological dimension and the capacity to form the landscape, crucial. Some of the major problems related to this topic were the landowners’ loss of connection to the land, the question of their agricultural identity, and unsustainable farming strategies.
Another key topic for landscape transformation addressed by the locals was land consolidation and the barriers and benefits it creates. Land consolidation is a key tool for any change in the Czech landscape. It represents a process of reconciling ownership issues and conflicts from the socialist era. In addition, it helps to aggregate scattered plots of land resulting from ownership path dependencies. In many cases, it causes conflicts of interest of different actors and their motivations at the same time.
If implemented successfully, land consolidation can facilitate the creation of biocorridors and the transition to more sustainable farming methods by giving the municipality the option to consolidate land in its ownership and thus gain control over what happens to its land (agricultural practices, construction, adaptation measures), the option to exchange land with private owners, etc. However, the land consolidation process is excessively slow as all private owners must give consent to land adjustments. The ones who have faced the clumsy and lengthy bureaucracy process the most intensively were the members of local governments. They also perceived a great deal of procedural injustices in this process alongside with the reluctance of some landowners to meet the societal need to create adaptation measures and interactive features (solitary trees, windbreaks) and biocorridors/biocentres in the countryside.
Back to justice and next steps
Just Scapes also aims to understand the perceived barriers to the promotion of greenery, biocorridors and adaptation measures. In both regions, these barriest were: improper legislation (and sometimes even the agriculture subsidies), private interests of some landowners, and economic interests of farmers and landowners for whom greenery is a barrier either in the management of their field or in its growth (weed-infested fields).
To conclude, the first phase of Just Scapes aimed at gaining initial insight into just landscape transformation in the Slovácko and Valašsko regions. But to properly address the topics of just transformation for everyone will take longer, and it will require further processes within the project. We will proceed soon with a period of intensive collaboration with our stakeholders (transformation labs) and participatory workshops, which constitute the second phase of Just Scapes.