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Assessment of management measures for the conservation of traditional irrigated lands: The case of the Huerta of Murcia (Spain)

Martínez-Paz, José Miguel, Banos-González, Isabel, Martínez-Fernández, Julia, Esteve-Selma, Miguel Ángel
Land use policy 2019 v.81 pp. 382-391
agricultural policy, agricultural products, agroecosystems, contingent valuation, ecosystem services, funding, irrigated farming, land use change, markets, models, people, planning, profitability, surveys, willingness to pay, Spain
Traditional Mediterranean irrigated lands, such as the Huerta of Murcia (Spain), constitute characteristic agroecosystems which provide several ecosystem services, both cultural and regulating. Nevertheless, these agroecosystems are threatened by factors linked to the low profitability of agricultural production under present market conditions and the land conversion to non-agricultural uses.In order to assess the perceptions and valuation of the Huerta of Murcia by the local population, an economic valuation survey was carried out, using a contingent valuation method (CVM). Based on the survey, we identified the measures that were most valued with regard to the conservation of the huerta, which were: i) Limitation of the land uptake for urban uses; ii) Creation of programs to conserve ecosystem services, by means of financial support; and iii) Initiatives to promote the production of traditional agricultural products. Finally, we included these measures in a dynamic system model that, once validated, was used to explore the potential impact of such initiatives on the expected future behavior of the Huerta of Murcia.The CVM findings show the importance given to the huerta by the population of the area, beyond the use they usually make of it. The results also allowed the determination of the amount that the local people are willing to pay for the conservation of the environmental services of the Huerta of Murcia.Moreover, the simulation results for the period 2015-2030, obtained using the model, suggest that more direct measures, such as land planning, achieve better results than indirect options, such as those derived from agricultural policy and the implementation of a payment for ecosystem services, even when these latter aspects are combined. Under a scenario combining the three measures valued most highly, the loss of these irrigated lands would be reduced by around 11.5% in 2030, compared to the base trend simulation.Although the policies analyzed would improve the situation in the short and medium term, more ambitious actions would be required for full conservation of this agroecosystem in the long run.