Main authors: Frode Sundnes, Alma. de Vries, Cors van den Brink
FAIRWAYiS editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Sundnes, F. et al. (2021) Multi-actor platforms in the FAIRWAY project: summary of activities and experiences. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.2, 30 pp


The FAIRWAY project works through 13 cases, that we conceive of as multi-actor platforms (MAPs). These MAPs are either engagement platforms that have a longer history and have been brought in under the project to contribute to FAIRWAY’s aims, or they have been set up within the project period. See Table 1 below for an overview of the cases and their history.

Table 1. Overview of Multi-Actor Platform in the FAIRWAY project, indicating context and history of engagement, based on Sundnes et al (2020), adapted from Nesheim et al. (2021)

MAP, country Status at start of FAIRWAY project Main Pressures History of Engagement
Tunø Island, Denmark Historical reference case The island has one waterworks. Aquifer vulnerable to saltwater intrusion and nitrate pollution from agriculture. Nitrate levels reduced significantly since the 1980s. Project to protect drinking water and a water management working group established in 1986. New strategy in 1992 broadened protection zones and implemented best practices. Farmers mainly engaged through information, meetings and stakeholder participation. After the nitrate problems were solved in the 1990s, the multi-actor engagement ended.
Aalborg, Denmark New platform set up under FAIRWAY Drinking water quality is at risk. Drinking water comes from groundwaters, which are vulnerable to pollution from nitrate and pesticides. Measures are implemented by voluntary agreements with farmers since 1998 including compensation. Farmers are required to implement measures according to actions plans; expropriation can be used. “groundwater board (Grundvandsradet)” including 20 members that represent agriculture, environment, nature, forest, groundwater, etc. has been maintained by the municipality since 2011. This water cooperation is responsible for negotiation of agreements with farmers.
Anglian Region, England  New platform set up under FAIRWAY  Drinking water quality is at risk. Pesticide and molluscicide use lead to contamination of surface water, along with a lack of water treatment options. Measures include a knowledge exchange campaign. In a vulnerable catchment, there is also a campaign on product substitution, including financial incentives.  Since 2015, the Anglian Water (private water supply company) catchment adviser has adopted a catchment-based approach through knowledge transfer/exchange to farmers and the wider industry, as well as product substitution. Farmers rely on advisers and government campaigns, as “catchment-sensitive farming”.
La Voulzie, France Existing platform prior to FAIRWAY The watershed is mainly agricultural and to a very little degree urbanized. The catchment gathers several springs. The water company has recorded nitrate concentrations for several decades, showing an increase from the 50s, reaching a plateau in the 90s. The atrazine concentration has been recorded since 2001, but concentrations are decreasing after it was banned in 2003. There has been a long history of engagement in the area. The first actions have roots back in the 1990s, and different actions (mandatory or not) have been introduced since. The collaboration involved the farmers and the water company but also local, regional, and state authorities, farmers advisers (chamber, ubios), and a local association (aqui'brie) 
Lower Saxony, Germany  Existing platform prior to FAIRWAY  Water quality is at risk in manure surplus regions. There is farm manure surplus in a region within the state. Drinking water is mainly sourced from groundwater wells. Measures include fertilization law, farm manure application techniques, discussions on inter-regional manure transport, and manure treatment.  Round table discussions initiated by municipalities on nutrient management and water protection have been organized in districts since 2017. Chairpersons are farmer representatives; participants are both agricultural and environmental representatives and local and regional authorities. 
North Greece (Axios River & Agios Pavlos) Greece New platforms set up under FAIRWAY Agricultural impact on groundwater and surface water (nitrates and pesticides). Authorities choose different sources for water use, rather than implementing a plan to minimize pollution.

Axios River: Minimum previous engagement of only certain farmers in projects. Financial incentives to change crop production or use alternative farming practices. No established engagement, nor experience with stakeholder networks for information exchange or pressure to higher levels of decision-making.

Agios Pavlos: There was a farmer’s union with established participation in similar projects, related to water quality and pollution abatement. Some farmers were driven to produce “green labelled” products with respect to environmentally friendly farming

Derg, Northern Ireland Existing platform prior to FAIRWAY Drinking water quality is at risk. There is runoff from agriculture and forestry, with a focus on pesticide use and impact on drinking water quality. Drinking water is sourced from surface water. Measures include a water utility-led land incentive scheme to improve drinking water. A final tranche of measures was implemented, and monitoring is continuing. The national-level Water Catchment Partnership has involved the national government and NGOs with an interest in water management existed since 2013. A “Source to Tap” project in the Derg catchment was led by NI Water (Northern Irish water utilities) working with stakeholders to deliver a land incentive scheme to improve drinking water quality.
Overijssel, the Netherlands Existing platform prior to FAIRWAY Shallow groundwater nitrate standards are not met. Dairy farming causes nitrate and pesticide leaching toward groundwaters. Drinking water is sourced from groundwater wells. Measures include reducing nitrate and pesticide by better nutrient management and targeted pesticide use. The province and the water company Vitens initiated the “Farmers for Drinking Water” project in 2011; as part of this, farmers have been invited to regional meetings to facilitate implementation of measures. The water company contributes with agricultural advice, agricultural accounting, regional rural development, etc.
Brabant, the Netherlands Existing platform prior to FAIRWAY Drinking water quality is at risk. Pesticides from agriculture and urban areas threaten the groundwater in several areas. Measures include the prevention of pesticides in rural and urban areas, and water purification measures. The province, water company, and the water boards initiated an engagement project in 2012. The agricultural organization contributes by facilitating communication to their members and links to agricultural education.
Vansjø, Norway Existing platform prior to FAIRWAY Water quality has improved but is still at risk in certain areas. Nutrients from agriculture and sewage from dispersed settlement posed a high risk to surface water quality in early 2000. Lake Vansjø is a drinking water source. Measures include intensive monitoring, with a focus on all contributors, as well as tailored agreements with individual farmers for environmental practices. There has been a long history of actor collaboration in the area since the 1970s. The Morsa project was established in 1999 to improve poor water quality, engaging local and national politicians. Forms of collaboration among inhabitants, farmers, and local, regional, and sectoral authorities have been ongoing, although collaboration has primarily been between authorities at different levels and municipalities.
Baixo Mondego, Portugal New platform set up under FAIRWAY Some drinking water sources exceed nitrate standards and other limits of pollutants coming from agriculture. There is an excess of nutrients caused by fertilizers such as manure and wastewater sludge. Drinking water is sourced from groundwater. Measures include national legislation and policy. There has been previous engagement with individual farmers in projects. There has been no previous multi-actor engagement platform in the catchment involving authorities, water company, and farmers.
Arges-Vedea, Romania New platform set up under FAIRWAY There is a risk of drinking water pollution, but is more a site-specific problem than a diffuse one. Sources for nitrates in water bodies, and hence the pressure for groundwater pollution, comes from animal wastes inside the perimeter of build-in areas of villages. Measures are implemented by farmers according to the Action Plan for protection of waters against nitrate pollution. From 2008 a World Bank project related to “Integrated Control of Fertiliser Use” is acting in the study site area having as the main objectives development of measures to mitigate the nitrate pollution of surface and groundwater, in which farmers and local public authorities are involved.
Dravsko Polje, Slovenia New platform set up under FAIRWAY Abstracted water in the lower parts of a shallow aquifer is polluted with nitrate (>50 mg/L). Agriculture impacts water quality. Drinking water is sourced from groundwater. Measures include a water protection zone, while water companies mix water from shallow and deep wells to reach an acceptable quality. There has been previous engagement with individual farmers in projects. There has been no previous multi-actor engagement platform in the catchment involving authorities, water company, and farmers.

Whether the MAPs of the FAIRWAY project are new or have a longer history is only one feature of difference between the cases of the project. While some address quality of drinking water as surface water, others concern groundwater. While some MAPs address issues pertaining to nitrates and/or phosphorus, others deal with pesticides; while yet others engage with all these issues. In some cases, there is some level of conflict, in others the tensions are less visible, or absent. In some cases, the platform functions with an official and formal mandate; in other cases, it is a looser association around more or less common challenges or problems. The platforms also vary with regards to the kind of actors that participate. In all the MAPs, farmers participated either as individuals or through farmers’ associations, while, in some MAPs, agricultural advisors also participated. All MAPs engaged with relevant waterworks, drinking water companies, and/or water catchment associations/ boards where applicable, some also with the fertilizer or pesticide industry. While all the MAPs engage with the local-/district-level government, some also had the regional and national level included.

Table 2 gives a further overview of the FAIRWAY MAPs, their main characteristics, key participants, the MAPs’ respective aims and mandate, as well as brief reflections on the level of shared understanding amongst participants, the assumed synergies within the MAPs, and key points on achievements and challenges.

Table 2 MAP characteristics, based on Sundnes et al (2020), adapted from Nesheim et al. (2021)

MAP, country MAP characteristics MAP development: Strategy, achievements, learning points, and risks challenging long term engagement
MAP participants Aim and MAP mandate Shared understanding of the problem Synergies associated with MAP Economic resources available for MAP
Tunø Island, Denmark Local water company, farmer representatives, municipality, agriculture advisor, county authority Water company and the municipality provided a mandate for a working group to draw up a strategy for safeguarding the drinking water supply, resulting in a sustainable water supply project. High level of trust between farmers and regional authorities, but not a shared understanding of the problem or how to address it. After MAP ended, the farmers perceive it not as a success, but as a top-down development they had no share in. The lack of a shared understanding was remedied by compensation to farmers. Conflicts avoided as farmers were given new land and compensation, and because respect and trust was created between stakeholders Farmers were compensated, water works bought land for protection zones. A project to achieve specific results. Trust between farmers and regional authority built over time through many physical meetings in the fields, and a dense monitoring programme showing clear effect. Farmers mainly engaged through information, meetings and stakeholder participation. MAP ended after achieving acceptable nitrate levels. Successful example of how to implement groundwater protection using permanent grasslands. From a farmer’s perspective and a long-term monitoring perspective, commitment does not come easily. If long-term groundwater protection is implemented there needs to be a shared understanding of the issue, and a monitoring programme to document the effect.
Aalborg, Denmark MAP initiated in 2017 including the water works, the municipality, farmers, farmer advisory org., Agri-Nord, SEGES. Facilitation: The waterworks, municipality.

Aim: Improve collaboration and contribute to common understanding of the pressures and processes.

Mandate: Project supported by the municipality and the waterworks. 

No shared understanding of the need for additional groundwater protection between the farmers and the Water Collaboration Aalborg.  Low level of synergies associated with the MAP. Farmers received some economic compensation from implementing measures.  Economic resources available for compensating farmers when they implement measures. 

Strategy: Separate meetings were conducted with farmers and other actors to understand perspectives and to find a common space for dialogue.

Achievements: Common platform for communication enabled in 2021.

Learning points: Agronomic advice being individual and free of charge for farmers; transparent approach; compensation should be indemnified and fair.

Risk: Conflicts.

Anglian Region, England MAPs initiated in 2017 with Anglian Water (AW), ADAS, Environment agency, farmers, agronomists, agricultural industry. Facilitation: Univ. of Lincoln, AW, catchment advisor.

Aim: Develop bottom-up approaches to farmer engagement to meet their and the water company’s needs.

Mandate: MAP to be facilitated by the AW catchment adviser for continued engagement.

Initially different understanding of what is the problem of focus, the farmers focus on their problem with weeds, while the water company focus on water quality. A focus on solutions affecting farmers, AW was able to develop a greater presence in the catchment. This created farm trials and projects of high synergy to both parties as they had been co-developed. External funding was generated to develop MAP activities. In kind provided by AW, otherwise no resources. Continuation will be through AW catchment advisor.

Strategy: Focus on farmers’ challenges. Field demonstrations; expertise in both farming and environmental protection.

Achievements: Common knowledge-base, shared understanding, networks for continued engagement.

Learning points: Understand farmers’ issues for meaningful engagement; priorities of water companies may differ from farmers’ – work to solve farmers’ issues first to gain trust.

Risk: Lack of funds for long-term continuation.

La Voulzie, France  The commitment of Eau de Paris for water quality started in 1990 and has continued with different action plans. The MAP now includes 200 farmers, the water company, rural communities and the scientific community. 

Aim: Improve the groundwater quality for drinking water supply.

Mandate: The mandate of the platform is limited to the catchment. 

The understanding of the nature of the problem is shared, but less so for its urgency. A long history of water quality challenges related to pesticide and nitrogen parameters. Some farmers are actively involved, while other do not want to participate as the pumped water is for Parisians and is "not their business".  The water company, through their hired catchment officer, encourages synergies via partnerships, technical exchange meetings, and new organisations involving farmers.  Institutional support by state, water agency and water company  Water company makes decisions by elaborating a strategy to protect groundwater resources, calling on technical institutes (Inrae, Ubio) as partners, to guide the farmers through experiments or through communicating information in order to implement new water-friendly practices. There is continuous interaction and communication in the MAP, but a challenge to keep farmers and other stakeholders involved as it has been going on since the 1990s.
Lower Saxony, Germany  MAP initiated in 2017 – including representatives of district authorities for water and agriculture and local advisory services. Facilitation: A farmer representative is the chairperson. 

Aim: Discuss viable compromise how farm manure surplus in the northwest by transfer to the southeast could work.

Mandate: Support by municipalities and the federal state, no mandate to formally agree on measures. 

Shared understanding on the need to reduce diffuse nitrate pollution from agriculture. Not all actors agree on inter-regional manure transport to reduce environmental pressure in the northwest.  High synergy level as all actors are very interested in the topic.  No formal legitimization of the MAP - hence there is no continuous external funding. 

Strategy: Trust-building factors, official and informal meetings.

Achievements: Varying perception of the success -some see the MAP as an information source, but not solving the actual issues.

Learning points: Transfer of knowledge is ranked as the most important trust-building factor; increased farmer participation give legitimacy to the MAPs being achievements; need to tailor to particularities in the different districts.

Risks: Weak mandate and lack of funds.

Axios River & Agios Pavlos, Greece   MAP established in 2018 with water utility company, farmers, agricultural companies, agricultural advisors, municipality, cattle/sheep producing farm

Aim: Platform for exchange of information between farmers, for dissemination and transfer of knowledge.

Mandate: Informal, by national, regional authorities, farmer

Common understanding is the need to reduce nitrate/pesticide use and to find pollution abatement solutions. There is established trust within the farmers but not with the authorities. There is low connection to higher level of decision-making.

Axios River: Synergies are found between farmers, fertilizing producing companies, and water utility companies, and can in the future they be used to implement environmentally friendly practices.

Agios Pavlos: Synergies are still low. Some gradual developments related to creating bigger farms, common products, or introducing best-practices in order to produce better quality and more “green” products. Further engagement with the farming union and the water legislation authorities on local/regional level would be beneficial.

Axios River: The nascent MAP has focused informative / educational / guidance purposes.

Agios Pavlos: While the MAP has focussed on educational / guidance purposes, the participants are in the future willing to use own resources to show new intelligent farming techniques, to reduce fertilizer use etc.

Strategy: Meetings for information/knowledge exchange, discussions of broader participation and the problems of water pollution.

Learning points: MAP discussions are important to farmers and product buyers. For Axios these are educational task to water authorities related to decision-making. For Agios, active and educated farmers are necessary to influence others, while the water authorities’ and farmer unions’ participation is key for legitimacy.

Achievements: Axios River; Building a network of trust, between stakeholders, find common issues to address, finding incentives that are common, participation of water authorities and municipal authorities. Rebuilding trust to gov authorities, setting up commercial networks and synergies for better products. Agios Pavlos; Setting up “role models/influencers” for the rest of the actors, building a network of trust between stakeholders, find common issues to address, finding incentives that are common. Rebuilding trust to farmer’s union, setting up commercial networks to promote “green prodyucts” and env. friendly products.

Risk: Only incentive had been profit from agricultural products, environmental issues were low priority, period of financial crisis followed by COVID and market risks, necessity to have financial incentives before every action in the MAP. Low trust to gov. agencies and ministries.

Derg, Northern Ireland  MAP initiated in 2017 builds on the Source to Tap project team and the Water Catchment Partnership, AFBI, Irish water, Northern Irish Water, Ulster University, Rivers Trust, East border regions. 

Aim: Protection of drinking water by addressing pesticide use; comply with regulations on pesticide use.

Mandate: By national, regional, local authorities, associated with requirements of the WFD, the ND and DWD

Shared understanding of need to protect drinking water by reducing pesticide use. Also emphasized need for awareness raising at the national level and at the local level - communicate impact on their drinking water.  Access to information on best practice on sustainable land management or nutrients management and the MAP contribute to community engagement / involvement and raise awareness.  Resources available through projects Source to Tap, SCAMP and through NIWater. Insufficient funds for measures, slow implementation. 

Strategy: Build relationships between partners; monitoring and evaluation of a farmer incentive scheme.

Achievements: Increased knowledge and awareness, understanding of farmer’s perspectives, relationship between water company and landowners, reduced pesticide levels.

Learning points: Patience needed to see results, building trust takes time, information need to be targeted.

Risks: Possible lack of funding, changing national policies; change of staff to less dedicated staff.

Overijssel, the Netherlands  MAP initiated in 2011. Farmers, agricultural contractors, municipalities, water company. Facilitation: The province and the water company Vitens. 

Aim: Platform to discuss current situation, agree on measures and evaluate the implementation of these measures.

Mandate: Provided by province and water company. 

Broad consensus on the need to improve groundwater quality (lower nitrate levels) by improving the efficiency of the use of nutrients through a mutual gain approach.  MAP represents a network of people; Farmers use MAP to also discuss other issues and potential solutions such as the drought-issue.  Funds for the MAP and associated activities are provided on a continuous basis by the province and the water company. 

Strategy: Creating a network for knowledge exchange. Individual advise on farm management in combination with economic impact.

Achievements: Exchange of knowledge; new insights by actors; a trust-building platform between farmers, the province and the water company;

Learning points: voluntary approach and measures may not be enough to meet the water quality standards.

Risk: Continuity dependent on budget provided by actors.

Brabant, the Netherlands Ongoing MAP initiated in 2011 includes: water boards, water company, agricultural org., local and regional authorities, farmers. Facilitation: Water company and agricultural organization. Aim: Reduce pesticide in surface and ground waters. Mandate: Provided by the water company, provincial authorities and water boards to discuss measures and solutions. Common understanding on the need to reduce pesticide use, and/or use pesticides “responsibly” to improve drinking water quality. Access to advice and demonstration of new measures; insights into the complexity of pesticide regulations. Funds have been available by means of a joint collaboration between water boards and the water company; agricultural organization contributes with in-kind resources.

Strategy: Building trust over time, collaboration to find solutions, include a variety of relevant local actors.

Achievements: Reduced pesticide use possible for certain crops; MAP serves as basis for sharing perspectives and decision-making.

Learning points: visualization of environmental impact important; trust-building involves mutual understanding among actors.

Risk: Continuity of MAP depends on available resources and voluntary engagement.

Vansjø, Norway The MAP established in 1999, incl. municipalities, political representation, a secretariat, water company, working groups, representatives from NGOs incl. farmers. Facilitation: Secretariat. Aim: Improve the water quality and environment of the catchment. Mandate: By catchment municipalities, national authorities. Associated with implementation of the WFD. A common understanding and awareness of problems achieved in the MAP – associated with monitoring efforts over decades. Some differences in political priorities at different governance levels. Knowledge exchange and possibility to influence discussions. Financial resources available from municipalities, from national and regional authorities for organization. ASlso for measures since 1999.

Strategy: Involvement by means of four thematic working groups (sewage, agriculture, environmental monitoring and the coastal area).

Achievements: Proven and efficient measures that show results.

Learning points: Political representation, a secretariat and thematic groups are cited as key elements to achievements.

Risk: Few risks challenging long term engagement.

Baixo Mondego, Portugal MAP established in 2018 including national, basin and regional authorities, farmers’ associations and farmers. Facilitation: Researchers familiar with actors in the region.

Aim: Platform for exchange of information between farmers and the public, for dissemination and transfer of knowledge.

Mandate: Informal, by national, regional authorities, farmer association.

Shared understanding that aquifers have too much nitrate. Varying perspectives of purpose of MAP, some on practices for improved water quality, others on economic performance of agriculture. Synergies in learning, but otherwise low levels –experienced as a concern for continued activity. Limited extent able to influence the priorities of the map. Increased knowledge of farm management and current agricultural practices in the area.

Strategy: Contribute with increased knowledge-base, solving differences by means of open dialogue and informal meetings.

Achievements: More interaction between actors; better understanding of other points of view - only partly regarding agriculture practices.

Learning points: Changing practices takes time and depend on technology, funding, increased knowledge.

Risk: Lack of funding and common goal a challenge for MAP continuation.

Arges-Vedea, Romania MAP was established in 2018, with local public authorities, farmers, consultants. Facilitation: project researchers

Aim: exchange knowledge between different actors related to applying good agricultural practices for reducing or preventing water pollution from agricultural sources.

Mandate: Informal, by local public authorities and farmers.

Shared understanding that it is mandatory to apply good agricultural practices either at farm or communal level in order to protect waters. Synergies may be improved if different actors are better involved in a common effort to find solutions that connect their own interests (higher productivity and protected environment). By applying measures, the farmers are financially compensated.

Strategy: a platform for knowledge exchange and informal meetings for dialogue between different actors.

Achievements: a better understanding of common issues and of the efforts needed for applying good measures.

Learning points: exchanging experience on agricultural practices adapted to different specific local conditions.

Risk: future communication between different actors within the MAP may be discontinued.

Dravsko Polje, Slovenia MAP established in 2018 with ministries, drinking water company, agricultural comp., agri. advisors, municipalities, farmers. Facilitation: Project researchers and local agriculture advisory service.

Aim: Solve problems of farming in the water protection buffer zones.

Mandate: Given by the presence of authorities, but no real mandate to implement changes.

The actors reflect different goals: farmers/agri. comp./advisers – proper financial support or new land; water companies – less emissions, trust with farmers; municipalities - clean drinking water; Ministries – measures agreed with farmers, trust. Outside of the MAP - low level of synergy about MAP future. The MAP reported contributing to improved synergy. Synergies could be improved if ministries would recognize local MAP as partner in communicating local issues. Increased knowledge of farm management and current agricultural practices, regarding measures and subsidies. The MAP could become part of agri. adviser public service paid by Ministry for agriculture.

Strategy: Meetings for knowledge exchange and to discuss focus and priority of MAP.

Achievements: Better communication between stakeholders, address a common issue.

Learning points: MAP discussions need to be considered by decision makers; formal meetings are taken more serious by actors.

Risk: Politicized issues, poor cooperation between gov. agencies and ministries, insufficient emphasis on the need for solving the problem.

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



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