Access to land for farmers in the EU

A few of the conferences held in Brussels in partnership with World Soil Day were mentioned in the newsletter of 16 December. The one on ‘Access to land for farmers in the EU’ particularly attracted readers who asked for further information.

The conference held by the Greens Group at the European Parliament, was split in two sessions. In the morning session at the European Economic and Social Committee the report “Land Rush – The sellout of Europe’s Farmland” was presented. In the second session, in the afternoon, losses in food security and sovereignty, not to mention difficulties in accessing land and job possibilities for new generations of young EU farmers were discussed in the European Parliament in the presence of MEPs (see photo above).

Indeed land has become an opportunity for investment and therefore subject of speculation. The study mentioned above illustrates the situation of land purchase and land grabbing in Europe, by multinational and major European and non-European investors. From large U.S capital being the predator, it is now large Chinese businesses (which are psychologically more worrying than North-American multinationals).

This means it will be impossible for small and medium agricultural businesses to survive, and stops any young person keen on getting involved in agricultural production to get any land, with the exception of family inheritance. And here we are left with the inconsistency of over half of agricultural soil in Europe is rented (at a total of 96% in Slovakia, and 89% in Bulgaria) and those who work it do not own it.

On top of this already negative picture, we must add the impact of the situation on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): in practice those large financial groups able to respond to the Commission’s administrative rules are subsidised.

Adam Payne’s contribution – a farmer and member of the Via Campesina co-ordination committee – gave the following scathing overview of the situation:

  • Europe has 10.8 million agricultural farms (average : 16,1 hectars) ;
  • 8% of agricultural work comes from the business’ family members ;
  • From 2003 to 2013 the EU has lost EUR 4 million worth of small agricultural farmers (in other words 33% of the total amount)
  • 3% of European farms cover over 100 hectars and own 52% of all agricultural land ;
  • Whilst 75% of farms are smaller than 10 hectars each and only have 11% of agricultural land ; finally
  • 6% of all farm managers are below 35 years of age, whereas 55% are over 55 years of age.

MEP Jose Bove’s speech gave several indications on how to amend this context: i) limiting CAP subsidies at a maximum of EUR 50-100 thousand per farm; ii) subverting the current false agricultural model which is based on “the bigger, the better” and support small and medium farms; iii) stop large agricultural projects (for example the one on 20.000 dairy cows, which means monopolizing and taking over large amounts of land); iv) blocking land purchasing for speculative purposes (for example the land recently bought by some French enterprises in Romania).

In the conclusions drawn by MEP Maria Heubuch, the importance to act with new goals and rules to ease new generations of farmers into agricultural activities was underlined. This is hoped to be achieved quickly at European level and in individual Member States.

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