Main authors: Frode Sundnes, Cors van den Brink, Morten Graversgaard
Case study leaders: Peter Leendertse, Marije Hoogendoorn
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 Noord-Brabant 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. Achievements
4. Engagement process and participation
5. Trust
6. Conflicts
7. Future sustainability of MAP
8. Lessons learned

1. Description of MAP

The case study region is located in the south of The Netherlands, in the province of Noord-Brabant. This province has an area of 4.919 km² and it is populated by 2,48 million inhabitants. The northern border follows the Meuse (Maas) river westward to its mouth in the Hollands Diep strait, part of the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta. The province of Brabant is important for the Dutch drinking water supply. Drinking water is abstracted from groundwater at 39 locations in the province with an annual production of 180 million m3. In addition, Brabant is part of the catchment area of the river Meuse. The surface water of the Meuse is a drinking water resource for 3 million people in the western part of the Netherlands. The abstraction sites for drinking water in Brabant vary in depth and vulnerability. The shallow and most vulnerable sites are surrounded by groundwater protection areas.

The case study focuses on pesticide reduction of actual and future drinking water resources considering the national and European regulations and laws. The monitoring program carried out by Brabant Water and the provincial authorities shows that the use of pesticides is a threat to the groundwater in 11 of the 39 abstraction areas. Pesticides are used in agriculture, but also in urban areas. The strategy to produce high quality tap water revolves around prevention but, if necessary, also water purification may be applied.

The province of Noord-Brabant, water company Brabant Water and the water boards (Waterschap Brabantse Delta, Aa en Maas, de Dommel en Rivierenland) initiated and are funding the project. The agricultural organization (ZLTO) is contributing to the project in-kind by facilitating communication to their members and offering links to agricultural education. Until 2011 the consortium (CLM: overall management and communication, Delphy: agricultural advice, EcoConsult: advise to greenkeepers and gardeners) invited farmers and contractors, discussing new developments and giving advice through group meetings and individual visits. Farmers – or their contractors – were selected if they had parcels of land in recharge areas of 11 vulnerable groundwater abstractions. From 2012 growers of potatoes, strawberry, leek, green beans, ornamentals and contractors from the whole of Noord-Brabant were invited to participate in the project. This was driven by the desire of the water boards to broaden the focus towards both ground and surface water and by the desire of ZLTO to make ‘mutual gain’ measures more widely available to growers. Pesticide Environmental Impact Points for surface water and groundwater are used to create awareness with farmers and to monitor project successes.

The questions in the survey were answered by 10 respondents, among them the main stakeholders: farmers, the water company, the water board, agricultural advisers and the province.  

2. Problem identification and shared understanding

There is broad consensus with the stakeholders about the problem identification: ‘To reduce the impact of the use of pesticides on groundwater and surface water’. However, some respondents also mention elements like ‘show that less environmental impact is possible by using pesticides in a responsible way’ and ‘getting all stakeholders aligned to discuss sometimes controversial ways of working and initiatives’.

Despite the broad consensus about the problem identification, 3 respondents indicate merely ‘some extent’ of shared understanding. The comment shows that they are not referring to stakeholders within the project, but to other farmers and advisors, outside of the project.  

3. Achievements

There is a general sentiment amongst the respondents that the MAP is successful or very successful in addressing this issue. Respondents mention different reasons for the MAP being successful:

  • The project has shown that using less pesticides is possible in some important crops. However, not in all crops.
  • The project is based on voluntary engagement, so continuity is an issue considering the available budget.
  • The project has i) a clear objective ii) quantified by Environmental Impact Points and iii) individual advice of the grower.
  • The MAP uses a yearly benchmark of the EIP-scores of the farm compared to other farms.
  • Stakeholders listen to each other and the MAP serves as basis for future decisions.
  • The MAP is used to share the results and increase the awareness of growers.
  • Growers are free to choose the measures that fit in their management.
  • Growers are challenged regarding their craftsmanship and skills.

All respondents have observed changes as result of activities in the MAP. These changes are:

  • Increased awareness of the impact of agricultural management for the environment.
  • Increased awareness regarding the need for cooperation with all partners impacting water.
  • Better contact with other stakeholders in the MAP

Nine of the respondents find the project to be successful to very successful, and have gained new insights and observed changes due to the project:

  • Government-related members: visualization of the environmental impact is very important for the farmers, as well as insights into the complexity of pesticide use for other MAP members. But also, that a project based on voluntary engagement has its limitations.
  • Including the agricultural supply chain in the project and MAP – buyers of the crops – is important but challenging.
  • Farmers: success is due to the advice and demonstration of new measures as well as insights in the complexity of pesticide regulations.

The one exception was a farmer who found that, in the last few years, the project has produced fewer innovative measures and has been less visible.  

4. Engagement process and participation

Half of the respondents indicate that all MAP members are equally involved and important, the other respondents found all equally involved, but not all equally important. The latter responded that not all crops have a high environmental impact or are too small to make a difference.

There is broad consensus with the stakeholders that they can influence the priorities in the MAP – at least to a certain extent. They also consider the MAP to be a successful platform for engagement. As reasons for the MAP to be successful, respondents mention:

  • The MAP serves as platform to discuss different viewpoints and understand different stakeholders.
  • The MAP creates a network in which people can find each other more easily.
  • The MAP contributes to building trust and knowledge exchange.  

5. Trust

The most important trust-building factor is the mutual understanding between stakeholders. In addition, respondents mention some additional trust-building factors:

  • Regular information and feed-back regarding progress and results, but also regarding challenges.
  • For the growers, confidential use of their data is crucial.
  • The MAP must be a ‘safe environment’ in which stakeholders can express their doubts.
  • Willingness to change.  

6. Conflicts

Conflicting priorities and differences in opinion are solved by discussing these issues. Respondents stress the fact that the interests are not opposed – all aim for clean water – so the issues are solved by sharing insights and viewpoints. And if necessary, by a differentiation in the financial contribution of the different stakeholders. 

7. Future sustainability of MAP

Only a minority of the respondents don’t see any limiting factors for the long-term sustainability of the MAP. The reason mentioned is that the new way of working is fully implemented, and the potential risks can be managed. However, most respondents mention the need for continuous maintenance of the MAP. Growers are part of a very complex arena consisting of the requirements in their supply chain, environmental issues, advisors of pesticide firms approaching them to sell pesticides, etc. They consider future investments in the Clean Water approach by all partners in the water chain necessary to form a counterbalance.  

8. Lessons learned

Regarding the lessons learned, respondents indicate a wide variety of lessons:

  • A long project duration for lasting relations and partnerships between the members. Building trust over time is very important.
  • Make clear to the farmers what their own environmental impact is.
  • Comparing and challenging farmers by benchmarking works is very stimulating.
  • Listen to each other. A big part of the Clean Water approach is to make farmers understand the struggles that the water companies are facing, but also making governments and water agencies understand the issues farmers face. Together they can come up with solutions.
  • Working and communicating with more than just the farmers, like citizens, local companies and local governments. 


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


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