Main authors: Frode Sundnes, Cors van den Brink, Morten Graversgaard
Case study leaders: Thomas Beiss-Delkeskamp, Linda Tendler, Susanne Klages
iSQAPERiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Sundnes, F et al. (2020) Advancing MAPs as vehicles for resolving issues on drinking water pollution from agriculture. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.5R, 56 pp


In »Multi-actor platforms as vehicles for resolving drinking water pollution issues we critically assess the MAP engagement processes in the FAIRWAY case studies. We look at lessons learned and map opportunities and bottlenecks for meaningful engagement, shed light on challenges and how they have been addressed, and explore the future sustainability of the engagement platforms beyond the lifetime of the project. Here we present feedback from Lower Saxony MAP participants on the performance and functioning of their MAP that was fed into that assessment to enable the harvesting of lessons and best practice.

Contents table
1. Description of MAP
2. Problem identification and shared understanding
3. Achievement
4. Engagement process and participation
5. Trust
6. Conflicts
7. Future sustainability of MAP
8. Lessons learned

1. Description of MAP

The federal state of Lower Saxony is composed of 37 municipalities and 8 urban districts. In many of them already some kind of engagement platform has been initiated. These MAPs are called "Runde Tische Nährstoffmanagement und Wasserschutz" (Round table discussions for Nutrient Management and Water protection). They work in such a way, that the farmer's representative (Kreislandwirt) invites all relevant actors (with administrative help of LWK, meaning that LWK organize and follow the MAPs) to joint discussions on how to achieve nutrient reductions and work on an environmentally-sound nutrient management in agriculture. The case study area covers two MAPs with joint municipalities in the southeast of Lower Saxony, both located in arable farming regions

  1. municipalities of Wolfenbüttel, Goslar and Salzgitter,
  2. municipalities of Hildesheim and Northeim).

The goal of the MAP is to find a viable compromise of how the farm manure surplus in the northwest region can be reduced, but at the same time maintaining or even improving water quality in the southeast of Lower Saxony.

The questions in the survey were answered by 12 respondents. 

1.1 MAP Participants

Participants in the MAPs are representatives of district authorities for water and agriculture and local advisory services.

  • A district representative of farmers is the official promoter of the meeting. However, other farmers do not participate.
  • The chairmanship by farmer’s representatives of the five respective districts has a high degree of legitimacy since they were elected by the farmers of their districts. However, they cannot reflect the opinion of each farmer in their district. Since they are the official chairmen, it is made sure that important issues for farmers and the current situation in their districts will be regarded. The role of the chairmanship is to raise issues occurring in practical agricultural management and challenges farmers are facing. On the one hand, they try to draw the attention of decision-makers (such as authority for fertilization or district representatives) to farmers' problems. On the other hand, they know about their power since (voluntary) participation by farmers is inevitable to successfully establish the project. Besides, one of the farmer’s representatives is also the head of the agricultural chamber (LWK).
  • The LWK of Lower Saxony (Landwirtschaftskammer Niedersachsen) is a body which is half-financed by the farmers (they are obliged to be members and pay a yearly fee) and half-financed by the county of Lower Saxony (the federal ministry of agriculture). LWK runs an (independent) advisory service for farmers, writes technical reports, administers the EU-subsidies, and works on projects related to agriculture. A separate, independent part of it controls the farm’s compliance with agricultural law (also on farm).
  • The ministries of agriculture (ML) and nature conservation (MU) of the federal state of Lower Saxony direct tasks to specialized public institutions. For the MAP, the relevant authorities are the chamber of agriculture (LWK), the authority for nature protection (NLWKN) and the authority for mining, energy and geology (LBEG). At the district-scale, monitoring is undertaken by the local water authorities (Untere Wasserbehörden). Furthermore, water supply companies, which have to guarantee drinking water quality, are also major players.
  • Representatives of the administration of five rural and urban districts (department of water, environment, etc.): They have to approve various requests of farmers concerning the application and storage of farm manure. Furthermore, they are the local authorities for water. Therefore, they have to make sure that the targets set by the Water Framework Directive (WFD) are met. Lately they have been asked by the federal minister of environment to establish so-called “Round Tables” in order to find ways to improve water quality in terms of nitrate. They represent the environmental interest in their respective districts. However, they are also in charge of the waste management of their districts, e. g. production and selling of compost to the farmers in the district. Thus, their roles can be quite complex.
  • Head and representatives of the federal authority for fertilization (LWK - Düngebehörde): The federal authority for fertilization specifies national law (concerning fertilization) in the whole district of Lower Saxony. These specifications are legally binding for the farmers. The establishment of this authority is quite recent (01.01.2017) and coincides with new legal requirements on national scale. On the meetings of the round table, it is important for them to have a strong presence and inform about their responsibilities, activities and contact persons. They have the final say concerning legal interpretation of national law on district scale. Besides, the head of this federal authority was the official overall project leader of the “joint program farm manure management”.
  • Representatives of the authority for mining, energy and geology (LBEG) and representatives of the federal authority for nature protection (NLWKN): They represent the environmental interest on the scale of whole Lower Saxony. They have high interest to release pressure on environmental resources in the northwest but are worried about water quality in the southeast. The LBEG also uses agricultural data of the districts to calculate the potential (still environmentally-sound) uptake of farm manure in the southeaster region (“emission monitoring”).
  • Heads of two district offices of the federal chamber of agriculture and case study coordinator: The district offices of LWK are directly involved in the question of farm manure transport since many agricultural specialists and advisors work here. The case study coordinator knows best about the status quo of the project and about further steps to be taken. Their role is primarily moderators, to facilitate the process.

Cooperation has existed only at the local level but no project covering the whole district of Lower Saxony including relevant officials existed before the project started. Some district authorities and farmers' representatives have initially been quite hesitant. The coordinators of the joint project “farm manure management” have organized information days. This included:

  • meeting of farmers of the north-western region with farmer of the south-eastern region,
  • information events about specific topics (current fertilization law, farm manure application techniques, etc.),
  • intensive (personal) discussions with district officials beforehand,
  • exemplary application of imported manure to check how the logistic chain works in the field.

1.2 The arena

Who is invited to the meetings is agreed by the authorities in charge and the farmer’s representatives. Interests of currently involved actors differ a lot and since the topic of farm manure distribution is very sensitive (e.g. many municipalities fear the consequences of farm manure import), the MAP first aimed at building trust between the actors and to discuss critical issues in a group of powerful actors. At the beginning, the MAP started with some selected participants in order to build trust and then expanded the arena with invitations to more (also more controversial) actors like critical farmers or advisors or NGOs or local representatives for the environment. In this way, the MAP became more stable over time. From the FAIRWAY survey of 2019, half of the respondents reply that all relevant actors are involved, however the other half also claim that nature/environmental organisations are missing/should be invited.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents describe the reasons for establishing MAPs as being the need to reduce the high nitrate levels in groundwater measuring points, also known in Germany as the “Wenzel-decree” i.e. the claim of the ministry of environment that at many measurement points nitrate levels are too high.)". The remaining 34 percent of the respondents state that the purpose for the MAPs is to establish manure management and find ways to export manure from surplus region to the arable farming region and how it should be guided.

2. Problem identification and shared understanding

There is some consensus among the respondents that the MAPs have two issues to resolve: both reducing diffuse nitrate pollution from agriculture and finding ways of improving inter-regional manure transport. However, some respondents are more detailed in their open-ended responses and define the issue in another way, as being more a matter of knowledge transfer/sharing of knowledge and acceptance. Illustrated in the below quote: “Sharing of knowledge about supra-regional nutrient management, determination of the actual situation on regional scale, determination of the uptake potential of manure on regional scale, presentation of the results of the nutrient report for the whole of Lower Saxony, discussion about suitable measures”. The difference in understanding of what constitutes the main issue, can be seen in the answer to the question: “To what extent do the participants in [the MAP] have a shared understanding of the issue?” Here approximately 60% indicate the level of shared understanding to some extent and only 33% to a large extent.

3. Achievement

Half of the respondents considers that the MAPs success in addressing the issue is limited. A large number of respondents also consider the MAP to not be successful in addressing the issue, the respondents main arguments are the following:

  • “MAP primarily serves as information source”
  • “(...) the legal framework and incentives of the market (e.g. fertilizer prices) determine the uptake of manure regardless of the MAP meetings”
  • “(...) MAPs help for advisory purposes and to create a common understanding but do not solve the issues itself”
  • “The MAP does not agree on concrete measures”.

The varying perception of the success should however be seen in relation to the differences in problem identification above.

One respondent considered that the MAP was, to a large extent, successful in addressing the issue, whilst approximately 40% of respondents felt that the MAP was only successful to some extent, arguing that: “Creation of transparency and increased knowledge among participants is the greatest success of MAP so far”.

Some of the respondents (1/3) state that new insights mainly have been about getting to know the point of view of the other participants, including farmer’s representatives who appreciated the opportunity to raise agricultural issues in front of the authorities. Others, predominately representatives from local authorities, claim that new insights mainly have been about getting new information on manure processing, whereas the rest stated new insights on other actor’s interests in the MAPS: “The local authorities are primarily focussed on their own interests (e.g. selling their local compost)”.

The respondents have different views on the changes observed as a result of the activities in the MAP. More than half (60%) indicate that there are no changes yet, and that no measures have been taken. The rest of the respondents indicate that the major changes are a reduction in sceptics and fear of what will happen. Knowledge has been increased and awareness has been raised on the topic of nutrient management. The latter part of the respondents indicate that meetings and MAPs have created the basis for cooperation and that “meetings fostered an increased understanding for each other among participants. Technical knowledge was essential for that”. 

4. Engagement process and participation

 As shown earlier, half of the respondents reply that all relevant actors are involved. However, the other half also claim that nature/environmental organisations are missing/should be invited.

Depending on their individual roles, actors have had considerable power to shape the initial ideas of the MAP. Besides, recent developments influence the power level of the different actors substantially. This includes recent legal changes at both national level (amendment of the national fertilizing directive) and province level (change in provincial government), findings and results of the joint project farm manure management, public pressure, etc.

Elements that were brought forward on the support of the discussions held were that everybody got the opportunity to state their opinion; everyone were taken seriously, discussions were followed till the end; and finally that unclear issues were collected and information on them was provided on the subsequent meeting.

Up to now, all institutions involved were enabled to raise their voices in reference to different questions/worries. Especially the representatives of the districts (both authorities and farmer’s representatives) came up with multifaceted topics, for example:

  • some districts deal a lot with compost and other organic fertilizers already (small substitution potential of mineral fertilizers), while others have higher substitution potential for fertilizers but lack the experience in handling
  • topography in individual districts (hilly vs. flat/plains)
  • willingness of farmers to participate differs.

The feedback from the MAP reflected that the discussions are very complex. Generally, the province-wide concept has to be kept in mind, but at the same time regional particularities must be taken into account.

Respondents have different views on the ability to influence the priorities in the MAP. One third indicate that they have the ability to influence the priorities in the MAP. Half of the respondents state that they partially have the ability, owing to the fact that they had greater influence in the beginning. Now, more local and regional actors are of greater importance. However, 10 out of 12 considers the MAP to be a successful platform for engagement. This is mainly argued because all relevant stakeholders have been engaged, meaning that a successful MAP is also about securing equality in representation in Lower Saxony. 

5. Trust

The most important trust-building factors are official and informal meetings (two thirds). Also transfer of knowledge is ranked as the most important trust-building factor for the work in the MAP by a third of the respondents. Three quarters of the respondents indicate that nothing has contributed to weakening the trust in the MAP, while the remaining quarter state that mandatory agreements or official mandates are missing and that this is weakening the trust.

6. Conflicts

There has been conflicts in the MAP, and the local authorities in the MAP are quite aware of the fact they have a lot of power. (Farmers need their permission for building storage facilities etc.) There has for instance been threats to leave the MAP if their needs are not ‘fully met’. 10 out of 12 have responded to the open-ended question on how conflicting priorities and differences of opinion were solved within MAP. Many of the conflicts and critical points have been solved through intensive discussions. Also, the knowledge transfer has helped by easy and prepared presentations of agricultural expert knowledge in a way that everyone could understand. Technical points which were not clear to everybody were explained in detail. Additional information was compiled after the meeting and presented at the subsequent meeting.

7. Future sustainability of MAP

The respondents see different threats to the future sustainability of the MAP such as:

  • There is no clear legitimisation of the MAP - hence there is no (monetary) funding and no means to implement concrete measures. (The MAP does not have the mandate to agree on concrete measures, Legal restrictions designed elsewhere determine the frame)
  • There were some conflicting goals, especially if (personal) interests of participants fundamentally differ. Limitations exist "at the horizon of each participant"
  • In the future MAPs could be used to improve networking between agricultural actors and others.
  • "MAP focusses very much on the question of manure transport, a perspective could be to further use it in the future for other well-matching topics (but this depends very much on the topic)."
  • Some problems cannot be solved at the regional scale (In Lower Saxony the total amount of manure is too high).
  • The economic framing conditions (e.g. prices for mineral fertilizers) are of higher importance. 

8. Lessons learned

Regarding the lessons learned, four respondents indicate no lessons. The other respondents indicate a wide variety of lessons:

  • MAPs are tedious work and consume a lot of time. Many participants are not aware of practical agricultural issues. It all revolves around a lack of funds.
  • The worthwhileness of transporting manure from the animal intensive region in the west to the arable farming region is very limited.
  • All participants are willing to deal with problems of other participants.
  • Many participants miss agricultural expert knowledge.
  • It is complicated to deduce measures from MAP discussions.
  • MAP helps to build trust.
  • The process of the MAP is very complicated and takes a lot of time. There are no quick solutions. But with patience they can be a vital component to solve the nutrient problem.
  • Points of view of participants are often diverging. 


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see


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