SPLENDID: Spatial Planning for Environmentally Diverse Circular Development

When conceiving plans for environmentally friendly agriculture, policy makers and scientists often overlook a key element: the spatial organization of land use. Specifically for circular agriculture, the spatial organization is important, as the closer the source and destination of residues are located, the better loops can be closed at minimum risk and cost.

The project Spatial PLanning for ENvironmentally DIverse circular Development (SPLENDID) provides policy makers with a scientific valid methodology to assess the spatial implications of implementing circular agricultural practices. It also looks at barriers and solutions to overcome these. This allows policy makers to realize circularity visions with a clear attention for all important landscape values.

SPLENDID investigates how circular options match with their surroundings and what ecosystem services (ES) they yield in their geographical context. In Noord-Brabant – a Dutch province which exemplifies a range of agriculture-related sustainability issues – SPLENDID assesses three types of circular agriculture (nature-inclusive, intensive soil-based and high-tech, non-soil-based), their spatial organization and the ES they deliver.

Circular agriculture probably requires a rigorous reorganization of the land use pattern, leading to farmers adjusting their farming practices, swapping land with other land owners or even relocating the entire farm to achieve geographical zones with farming and processing facilities ideally located to optimize the benefits of food production and related ES like preservation of biodiversity, landscape quality, and water retention. SPLENDID is funded by NWO and has one postdoc and three PhD students working to produce clear policy guidelines for realizing these objectives.

Research objectives
SPLENDID hypothesizes that circular agriculture can be grouped into three types of implementation (Types of Circular Agriculture): the nature-based implementation, that aims at restoring natural cycles and makes use of so-called regenerative farming; the indoors technology-based implementation, where complementary types of non-land-based farms (livestock, horticulture, etc.) are combined in fully closed systems, to maximally re-use waste streams; and the technology land bound implementation, where farmers make an effort to either capture and upgrade their own waste for re-use by others, or by replacing of their input by the upgraded waste of others, still depending on transportation, but preferably to shorter distances. Each type has a specific ecosystem service delivery profile, and only in combination with each other we can achieve the societally-desired palette.

Part of the SPLENDID research questions focus on the (diversity of) circularity variants, and how they should be spatially organized to strike a good balance between all desired ecosystem services (ES):

  • Which variants of the three circularity archetypes can be distinguished, and what is their general performance in terms of ES delivery?
  • How is the actual ES delivery of each variant affected by how it is located and shaped?
  • Which overall mix of circularity variants is needed – and how should they be organized in space – in order to meet society’s need for a wide range of ES?

And part of our questions focus on how the desired spatial organization can be realized:

  • Which instruments of land policy exist to implement the desired spatial organization of the various circularity variants?
  • How effective are these instruments, given the institutional (property and user rights), societal (public support), and financial (available budgets) constraints?
  • Will the new spatial organization be viable? How to redirect gains in ES to farmers, and what supporting institutional regime is required to secure the clusters?

Research Highlights
The SPLENDID project started in October 2020, and due to corona restrictions several activities had to be adjusted. Nevertheless, here we briefly present three main accomplishments of SPLENDID in 2021

  • Zoning offers future perspectives for agriculture (Zoneren biedt landbouw toekomstperspectief)

This map of The Netherlands where the three circularity archetypes could be located, based on a number of environmental variables. The main result is displayed in Figure 2, which is published in a Dutch professional journal for environmental scientists (Milieu dossier. 2021, April, p. 39-44). The map was also reproduced to feature in an advice to the new government, written by a formally appointed governmental advice committee (Kiezen én delen).

  • Types of Circular Agriculture (Typeringen voor kringlooplandbouw)

During the first year of the SPLENDID project, the research team engaged with relevant stakeholders from the province of Noord-Brabant, some of them also partners of the project, to co-produce alternative pathways for the transition to circular agriculture. To start the dialogue, we interviewed some stakeholders and assessed their views. We then described three main types of circular agriculture using their inputs in combination with real practices and current trends as an inspiration. Based on a comprehensive – but not extensive – list of sustainability indicators, experts from diverse fields linked to agriculture and environmental sciences were consulted to draw the sustainability footprint of each of these described types.

  • First Workshop with Stakeholders (images below)

In October 2021, SPLENDID hosted its first workshop in a very friendly atmosphere at WUR campus, where farmers, citizens, researchers, government, business, and NGOs openly discussed challenges and desires for the future of the Dutch agriculture. The discussions were focused in a region in Noord-Brabant for which the spatial challenges and solutions were explored in a planning exercise.


  • Martha Bakker
  • Jerry van Dijk (Utrecht University)