Supporting Environmental Stewardship and Livelihood Benefits in Ontario's Greenbelt: Assessing the Potential Contribution of the Alternative Land Use Services Program
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Ontario’s Greenbelt is key to the region’s sustainability and plays an important role in stopping urban sprawl, preserving agricultural land and maintaining ecological goods and services. However, there have been concerns expressed in the literature and by non-government organizations that the Greenbelt legislation, on its own, will not ensure the viability of the farming economy in this region, or ensure adequate ecological stewardship. These concerns point to the need for other programs and policies to complement the Greenbelt legislation, and to help ensure that the goals of the Greenbelt are met. This research study assesses the potential of the Alternative Land Use Services Program (ALUS) as a tool for promoting agricultural viability and associated land stewardship in Ontario’s Greenbelt. An Alternative Land Use Services program would pay farmers for the provision of environmental services in the public interest. Using a qualitative methodological approach based on a literature review, a review of government and non-government organization documents and interviews with key stakeholders, this study compares the potential contribution of the ALUS program with that of other reasonable alternatives currently available to promote farmland protection and farm stewardship. The research also provides an analytical framework and a comprehensive set of criteria for selection and design of programs in support of sustainable agriculture in the Greenbelt. The primary research findings indicate that an ALUS program in the Greenbelt, established as a stand-alone regional project or as part of a provincial or national program, could help to strengthen the Greenbelt’s roles in stopping urban sprawl, preserving agricultural land and maintaining ecological goods and services. The ALUS concept and means of applying it could also play an important role in discussions regarding how to support the farm economy and rural communities in the Greenbelt. ALUS may be particularly appropriate as a means of enhancing the economic and ecological aspects of peri-urban agriculture. One of the thesis conclusions is that while ALUS could play a positive role in the Greenbelt, the program would be insufficient if it were applied on its own. ALUS will need to be packaged with a suite of existing programs that would be able to complement ALUS and address some of its weakness in order to make a stronger contribution. This research has identified new opportunities to promote land stewardship and enhance livelihoods in the agricultural sector as well as a new agenda for sustainable agriculture in the Greenbelt. More generally, the framework for analysis that was applied in this research has a broader applicability and usefulness in sustainability-based decision making processes. The approach outlines how sustainability assessments might specify sustainability considerations and integrate them together in particular applications.