A Benchmarking of Policy Instruments and Experiences for Improving Farmland Preservation in Urban Fringes of Iran

Document Type : Research Paper


Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Planning, faculty of environment, University of Tehran


A Benchmarking of Policy Instruments and Experiences for Improving Farmland Preservation in Urban Fringes of Iran

1. Amir Safaee, Ph.D. Candidate In Environmental Planning, Faculty of Environment, University of Tehran, Tehran- Iran

2. Shahrzad Faryadi*, Associated Professor, Department of Environmental Planning and Management, Faculty of Environment, University Of Tehran, Tehran- Iran

3. Majid Sheikhmohammady, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Tarbiat Modarres University,Tehran, Iran

4. Ismael Salehi, Associated professor, Department of Environmental Planning and Management, Faculty of Environment, University of Tehran, Tehran- Iran

Farmland conversion can be seen as a case of market failure in which the free market fails to protect environment. The reason is that the market value is incapable of reflecting the social benefits of farmland as well as internalizing environmental externalities made by urban sprawl. Farmland preservation in urban fringe is justified by their economic, ecological and aesthetic functions, because if farmlands are converted to urban constructed areas, the society will not be able to enjoy those benefits. Thus, considering the fact that planning is mainly deal with public interest, planners may have authority to suggest public policies for farmland preservation and urban growth management. They may do the job through public policy instruments including public acquisition and management, regulative instruments and incentive based instruments. In the last half of century, as a consequences of imbalance in national space arrangement and rapid urbanization, Iran farmlands are being converted to constructed areas in a rapidly high rate. Although some policies are made during this period to fix the problem, farmland conversion is yet on and on. Therefore to improve policy making in this area, it would be necessary to critique on Iran farmland preservation and urban growth management policies. This paper is seeking to take into account this goal.

Materials and Methods
To achieve mentioned target, the paper first presents some of the most important public policy instruments for managing urban growth and preserving farmland. The regulative instruments which are discussed are including planning mandates, urban growth boundary, urban services boundary, greenbelt and agricultural zoning. Also, the main incentive based instruments are development impact fee, infill and redevelopment incentives, tax incentives/disincentives and acquisition of development rights/credits. Then, five nation’s experiences about farmland preservation (the United States, Canada, the Britain, the Netherlands and Iran) are reviewed. Next, using a comparative methodology, the nations are comprised together in some standpoints such as possible preservation reasons, different normative values which conduct the policies and the ways which the instruments were being used. Through the brilliant notions which would be learned, main strengths and weaknesses of Iran policy making system in those areas are implied as well as general optimal insights to improve the system are discussed. Table 1 briefs five nation’s experiences focusing on the type and scale in which public policy instruments are used. According to what mentioned above, some may consider this paper as a kind of benchmarking to improve environmental management in this area. However, the present study uses a theoretical framework to organize and integrate concepts and theories form various scientific areas such as economics and public policy related to farmland preservation. Moreover, it develops a policy framework which implies policy making priorities, proposes some political solutions and connects knowledge to action regarding this problem.

Discussion of Results and Conclusions
As figure 2 shows, farmland preservation in Iran can be investigated from two separated but closely interrelated aspects. From the policy making system side, some critiques and solutions are pointed, as follows:
1) Preservation costs are being shared among stakeholders in an unfair manner. In the last decades, as land inflation was increased and at the same time incomes derived from agricultural activities decreased. Hence, it may be concluded that the opportunity cost of keeping farmlands in agricultural use is increased and consequently land use conversion is a more preferred option by farmland owners. In this situation, regulatory restrictions forbid land owners to develop their farmlands, while because of policy making environment is inflexible, no compensation is offered to them. To fix this problem, it is suggested to expand policy burden and compensate landowners for regulatory restrictions by giving incentives. Conservation easement in the US preservation experiences as well as right to compensation for land development restrictions in the Netherlands are the good examples for expanding policy burden which make a legal base to use incentive based instruments in those countries.
2) Although there are many policies and plans about farmland preservation and urban growth management, there is no policy framework to coordinate them in a way that integrates all related activities in each city. As a result of the lack, farmland preservation activities are being assumed separated from urban growth management and a different governmental organization is being responsible for each of them. To solve the problem, it is suggested to formulate a policy framework for both farmland preservation and urban growth management in every city. The mentioned framework should include three steps: the first is defining and announcing policy priorities through a political statement. The statement shows why farmlands are valuable for the city and what preservation goals are more preferred. By clearing such issues, local decision makers can define preservation strategies and instruments very easily as well as their decisions would be publicly more clear and convincible. The second step is making policy strategies in a way that farmland speculative value would be eliminated while their productive value is being increased. Also, the selected strategies for farmland preservation and those selected to urban growth management should be supplemented together. The final step is to choose supplementary policy instruments package based on priorities and strategies which were selected.
3) Because of conventional top-down process of planning in Iran, the issue of how the stakeholders’ interactions could be led to farmland conversion was underestimated. It would be highly important especially if it is known that there are many stakeholders involved in farmland conversion dilemma. Because they have different and usually controversial interest about possible uses of the land, and also they try to maximize their own outcomes, the situation almost is led to conflict. In such competitive and non-cooperative decision making environments, stakeholders act and decide based on individual rationality rather than group rationality (preferring best outcomes for their own rather than best outcomes for all of them or society). Farmland change would be the result of such decision making environments. Therefore, it is suggested that conflict resolution should be considered as an important part of any farmland preservation framework as was proposed above. For effective conflict resolution and to reach an equilibrium between social-individual interests, policy makers need to realize roles of the conflict by strategic analysis of stakeholders’ interactions and then to design optimal rules of interactions.
The second section of investigation about Iran farmland preservation is focused on Iran land administration system. In this section, main weakness is considering farmland preservation and urban growth management as two separated policy matter and so distributing each of them among different governmental organizations. Consequently, those organizations are not well coordinated and their activities are not complemented. Also some of them may have some possible financial interests from farmland change such as land use change permission fees. To modify that problem, it is suggested to integrate all policy matters about farmland preservation and land use administration through establishment of a self-determining organization with full authority in mentioned areas. The local departments of this organization should prepare farmland preservation policy framework for their each own city. Putting preservation as only interest of this organization, it should not have any possible financial interests from farmland change for its own as well as should not be a part of larger organization who may have such interests.


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