Among other changes, a successful transition to sustainability demands the appropriate design and reform of formal institutions. I illustrate key challenges in two very different agricultural landscapes: one in southeastern Australia and one in central Romania.
In southeastern Australia, conventional livestock grazing practices are detrimental to sustainability. Alternative livestock grazing practices exist, but their rate of adoption is low. Existing economic and policy institutions encourage farmers to stick to conventional practices and take remedial actions against environmental degradation, rather than switch to new practices that avoid degradation in the first place. In Central Romania, private and community-based subsistence agriculture has led to the sustainable use of natural resources for many centuries. However, since Romania joined the European Union there are strong incentives to intensify agricultural production. While EU agricultural policies have a major impact on rural development ambitions, EU policies targeting the environment are poorly suited to regional conditions, which are characterized by low education levels and many very small parcels of land. In both Australia and Romania, production goals are pursued by agricultural policies that are in direct contradiction to the ecological goals of environmental policies. Local people, in turn, receive mixed messages and face strong disincentives to practice sustainable agriculture. At present, minority interest groups are lobbying for more sustainable practices in both Australia and Romania, but they have not reached sufficient political momentum to effect fundamental change. Hence, while environmental policy integration is an obvious solution in both countries, the demand for such integration by civil society is too weak for it to occur in the foreseeable future.