De Landgenoten (which means "fellow countryman" in Dutch) aims to provide access to agricultural land for professional organic farmers in Flanders. De Landgenoten believes local, organic farms have a central role in current and future food safety and security.
Every week Belgium loses an area of farmland the size of 145 football fields. The number of farms in Flanders decreases by 3% every year, and about 2000 jobs disappear in the Belgian agricultural sector yearly. The average age of the farmer has increased continuously over the past years, from 50 years in 2007 to 54 in 2016.
Many interrelated factors heavily impede access to land for organic professional farmers. The demographics of Flemish farmers are conducive to new, young farmers entering the sector. However, while many new organic farmers exist, their entry into the industry is thwarted due to high land prices and outdated legal frameworks.
While legal frameworks should provide security of tenure, in practice, they are circumvented via less-secure mechanisms that offer less protection. The tendency to find a way around legal safeguards is driven by market speculation and the competing claims of various sectors.
According to the notary barometer, Flanders has an average land price of 63.082 euros per hectare (2021), with peaks up to 120.000 euros or more per hectare. These prices hardly relate to the realizable economic value of agricultural land. Furthermore, high land 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 farming practices with connected (international) power structures.
In response to these pressures, seventeen organizations created De Landgenoten in 2014. The idea was to purchase land in Flanders through shares and donations and to manage that land as organic farmland across many generations. Secure land tenure and access to land help create opportunities for farmers, allowing them to start, develop, or transition towards a sustainable agroecological farm. The 1.400 shareholders are partly from the farmers’ local community, enabling them to grow a lively social network.
De Landgenoten consists of a cooperative and a foundation.
The cooperative with a social purpose (scrl-so) was founded in April 2014 and is recognized by the National Council for Cooperations (NRC). The cooperative acquires financial resources by selling shares, buying land, and making 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 established in October 2014. As a shareholder in the cooperative, the foundation preserves its core values. It receives donations of land or money to acquire land for organic farming. The foundation also brings together farmers and more than 50 volunteers to raise awareness about the importance of access to land.
De Landgenoten allocates land to organic farmers in Flanders. Organic farmers provide healthy food while protecting our soil, biodiversity, and climate. However, it is challenging for many (organic) farmers to find available or affordable agricultural land in Flanders. That is why De Landgenoten buys land with resources from shareholders and donors. They rent out the acquired land to organic farmers throughout their entire careers. De Landgenoten passes the land on to the following organic farmer when a farmer stops. This way, the built-up soil fertility is never lost.
De Landgenoten is a recognized social movement that aims to put the theme of access to land high on the public and political agenda with targeted campaigns and actions. With its movement work, De Landgenoten wishes to amplify the voice of shareholders and donors who want to have a safe and secure (legal) environment for farmers. De Landgenoten also aims to attract more citizen-investors to buy and safeguard more land for organic farming.
At the beginning of 2022, the Landgenoten had acquired 31,85 ha of land, with an additional 5,25 ha underway. De Landgenoten wishes to continue to grow in the forthcoming years.
De Landgenoten appeals to various types of organic farms. Among the farms working on their land are fruit farms, vegetable farms, goat farms and mixed farms. Some farmers grow flowers too. De Landgenoten gives all farmers contracts to work on the common land until the end of their careers, as long as they are committed to agroecology and enhancing ecological processes. They need to meet European legal standards for organic production and get certified. De Landgenoten also favours farmers that work with a short supply chain.
De Landgenoten owes it success to:
– Short illustrated presentation of De Landgenoten on youtube
– Case study on the role of De Landgenoten in supporting CSA farms in Flanders, 2017
Regine Beerplein 1/E305