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Multifunctionality: The European Perspective and What it Could Mean for American Agriculture
Staff Paper Series No. 5, January 2002
by Frederick Buttel and Lydia Zepeda

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Denis Barthélemy, a well-known French agricultural economist in a recent lecture on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, defined multi-functionality and what it could mean to the world’s farmers. Barthélemy explained that multi-functionality as a policy concept has two interrelated meanings. First, agriculture can—and usually does, and surely must—play several roles. In addition to producing ample supplies of food at reasonable cost and in addition to commodity production, agriculture must contribute to environmental protection, preserve biodiversity, provide landscapes that appeal to non-farmers, and support rural economic development. The second key idea behind this multi-dimensionality concept is that these “non-marketable” public goods are the ones that most merit government support, and that public policy toward agriculture must be altered to recognize this fact.

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