Fostering sustainable access to farmland for organic farmers
Start April 2014
First purchase of land March 2015
Goal 6-10 projects in 2015-2016
De Landgenoten (which means “fellow countryman” in Dutch) aims to provide access to agricultural land for professional organic farmers in Flanders because it believes they have a central role in current and future food safety and food security.
Every week, 25 farms in Flanders disappear and every week Belgium loses an area of farmland the size of 145 football fields. Access to land for organic professional farmers is heavily impeded by many interrelated factors. The demographics of Flemish farmers (with almost half of them older than 55) are conducive to new, young farmers entering the sector. While many new organic farmers exist, however, their entry into the sector is thwarted due to high land prices (€40.000/ha on average) and outdated legal frameworks. While these frameworks should provide security of tenure are, in practice they are being circumvented via the use of less-secure mechanisms that provide less protection. This drive to find way around legal safe-guards is driven by market speculation and the competing claims of various sectors. Such high prices only favour the incremental growth of existing agricultural firms, the accumulation of land, the decline of the farming population, and the consolidation of conventional agricultural practices with connected (international) power structures.
De Landgenoten was created in 2014 in response to these pressures. 17 organisations united to bring together resources- through shares and donations - to purchase land in Flanders that could be managed as organic farmland across many generations. Secure land tenure and access to land helps create opportunities for a farmer, allowing him or her to start, develop of transition towards a a sustainable, agroecological farm. Shareholders are mainly from the farmer’s local community, which gives him or her the opportunity to develop in a lively social network.
De Landgenoten consists of a cooperative and a foundation. The cooperative with social purpose (scrl-so) was founded in April 2014 and is recognised by the National Council for Cooperations (NRC). The cooperative unites farmers and citizens. It acquires financial resources through the sales of shares, buys land and makes it available for organic farmers. By enabling citizens to become involved through direct investment, the Cooperative promotes another founding principle of De Landgenoten: food sovereignty through democratic control over land as "commons".
The Cooperative is flanked by a foundation, which was established in October 2014. As a shareholder in the cooperative, the foundation preserves its core values. It receives donations of land or money with which to acquire land and this land can be used for organic farming in perpetuity.
In order to achieve its mission, De Landgenoten will function on two levels simultaneously: the local and the societal level. At the local level, De Landgenoten supports local initiatives by buying and managing land and developing the knowledge required to do so. At the societal level, it will work on influencing policy and legal discourse in order to create a social movement and attract more citizens-investors as well as creating a safe and secure (legal) environment for our farmers to operate in.
Obviously, such goals require establishing widespread networks beyond the Flemish borders, with organisations such as Terre-en-vue in the Walloon provinces, because many legal aspects are still a federal competence and therefore require a national alliance.
In March 2015 De Landgenoten concluded its first purchase of 5 ha for Wijveld, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm near Ghent. Because the land was put up for sale, the farmers, Michiel and Marie, weren’t sure they could continue their business. When the land was put up for sale, De Landgenoten was still in the early phases of its establishment. With Wijveld the cooperative immediately had its first pilot project. One of the key levers was the willingness of the owner to sell his land to De Landgenoten and to wait until the cooperative was ready.
Thanks to this purchase, the future of Wijveld is now ensured. Moreover, with the many shareholders and the enthusiastic CSA members De Landgenoten was able to purchase an additional parcel. This offers opportunities to Marie and Michiel to serve more customers and to expand their business. It also allows them to increase sustainability: they will be able to use a wider crop rotation and a more extensive approach. They can also use extra land to attract natural enemies as a form of pest control and to be less reliant on external inputs of fertilizer.
Het Open Veld:
Het Open Veld is a CSA farm in Heverlee and has existed since 2007. De Landgenoten is currently purchasing the 1.5 ha field to ensure that it will be organically cultivated at all times. The farmers has dreams beyond this, including creating a mixed farm through the acquisition of a 4.8 ha plot to the south of the existing vegetable garden. Although there is no agreement yet, negotiations with the owner are going well. This expansion will mean extra work, too much for one farmer, so discussions are beginning on bringing in a new farmer as a collaborator. De Landgenoten is happy to help support this additional young farmer access land: more farmers means more hands to work on the field. This could include planting fruit trees, but also incorporating livestock onto the farm. Cows, sheep and other animals would provide manure to fertilise the soil of the vegetable field. This allows the farmers to close the ecological cycle of their farm, increasing biodiversity in the form offlowers, wild plants and bees. In addition, the entire region will be able to enjoy this too because it means more fresh organic vegetables as well!
In 2015-2016, De Landgenoten aims to undertake 6-10 projects involving sustainable access to land.
Short illustrated presentation of De Landgenoten on youtube
Pour un meilleur accès à la terre en Belgique et en Europe, a study about access to land in Belgium (in French and Flemish), conducted by FIAN Belgium