Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg


Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Food Policy

phone: +49 345 5522-511
Secretariat: Franziska Pohle

Visitor address:
Von-Seckendorff-Platz 4
06120 Halle (Saale)

Fourth Floor

postal address:
Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg
Natural Science Faculty III
Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Food Policy
06099 Halle (Saale)

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Research Focus

Applied, problem-oriented: complex environmental societal challenges

In the center of our efforts, we deal with increasingly complex interconnected environmental and societal challenges. We share a societally relevant problem orientation. We consider coupled resource systems, such as the land-water nexus or the land-biodiversity nexus. We look into case studies on land grabbing, as well as water grabbing that often follows, highly relevant for international agricultural and food policy. From a property rights perspective we consider how changes in the actual assignment of property rights in the irrigation sector are interlinked with property rights related to land. We investigate this in various case studies in Central Asia, as well as in Germany. Currently, we increasingly observe agricultural droughts in many parts of central Europe that motivates our research in governance of agricultural water sector in Germany.

Driven by current societal and political questions, we are interested in the impact of non-agricultural investments in the German agricultural sector, and particularly in their effect on the vitality of rural societies through ongoing land concentration processes. Moreover, closely linked to our commons research, we work on the opportunities and risks of newly evolving innovative governance forms of joint land ownership. Such societal challenges are complex and so, in addition to scientific expertise, non-scientific actors and political decision-makers must work together.

Methodologically sophisticated, policy-relevant: Advancing the PICA method

The department deepens policy analysis and policy evaluation from an institutional economic perspective by use of a decision support method, which assesses, ex-ante and systematically, the compatibility of agricultural and environmental policies with the institutional environment. This Procedure for Institutional Compatibility Assessment (PICA) can be combined with well-established agricultural-economic models same as innovative system modelling. PICA can be applied to current questions of agricultural, environmental, climate or energy policy, same as policies for rural development or strengthening civil society. Wherever political and administrative reforms are planned – in the irrigation sector in Central Asia, in the agricultural sector  in Germany, in the food systems across Europe – the compatibility of the proposed and promoted reforms with the informal institutions and societal contexts in place is decisive for the effectiveness of the measures. PICA tries to operationalize the interdependencies between political steering and transaction in society and in nature.

Another theoretical question involves how institutions influence the formation and implementation of societal moral concepts regarding the desirable treatment of animals, nature, and food. We elicit the normative assumptions built into particular institutional arrangements, which influence the process of shaping public opinion. By highlighting these assumptions, we contribute to the discussion on their suitability from the perspective of various evaluative criteria such as sustainability and justice.

The department focuses on behavioral economics, such as the opportunities for improved natural resource governance offered by experiential learning from participation in collective action games. In that regard we conduct a scaling-up study in India. Another theoretical behavioral aspect is the importance of so-called “framing effects”. Here we explore effects from socio-ecological framing to see whether and to what extent the public may support selected policy measures differently based on various forms of communication, with the aim to provide evidence-based options for improved policy design. Studies on the characteristics and attitudes of environmental and climate activists follow here.

Theoretical, interdisciplinary: Commons research

We examine in an interdisciplinary manner, whether theoretical explanations from the traditional commons research (e.g. irrigation, pastures) can be adapted to explain coordination mechanisms in the global commons (e.g. biodiversity, oceans) and in the newly constructed commons (e.g. urban gardens, food, energy security). The questions shift from considering the appropriation problem – fair share of extracted resource unit – to the provision problem – joint management and protection of a resource system.

We are particularly interested in the question of who owns nature, and consider (agro-) biodiversity as a global commons and whether it can be, as assumed, self-governed and provided by shared governance forms – Commons Governance. There are close linkages between the assignment of rights and duties on coupled resources. Agricultural policy measures and governance often accommodate the resource land, and thus do only indirectly apply to the governance of global commons such as biodiversity. Further, we investigate the idea of Earth Law that recognizes the 'legal personalities' of nature, granting rights and duties to nature.

We work on the classifications of the so-called new commons, particularly on food as commons and the implications of such emerging social discourses and food as commons initiatives. Considering traditional commons, such as forests and irrigation water, we study the determinants and risks of current outreach of pseudo-commons in former post-communist countries. These represent organizational forms that seem self-organized and democratic but in in fact only exist on paper, either purposefully designed that way or evolved. Such pseudo-processes impact have an impact on civil society engagement.