Farmland is a finite and diminishing resource. In a context where many other users claim farmland (for urban development, recreation, etc.), competition among farmers to access land is particularly intense.
In increasing numbers, consumers, civil society organisations, citizens, local authorities, and other stakeholders are calling for healthy, local food, and agricultural practices that protect the environment and nurture local communities and economies. Agroecology can best meet these demands. But for agroecological forms of farming to develop, they must have access to the primary requirement for food production: land.
Yet, today’s reality is very different. Most agroecological farmers, particularly new entrants, are struggling to get adequate and secure access to the land. They are faced with several opposing trends:
Land concentration on large, intensive farms
The functioning of the land markets, de-regulated in most European countries, augment and intensify existing agricultural policies, benefiting large farmers and giving them advantages in accessing land. As a result, farmland coming onto the sale or rental market mostly ends up enlarging existing large farms. Today, 3% of EU farms (over 100 hectares) control 50% of farmland.
Speculation and land grabbing
With the global financial crisis, and tensions on global food markets, an increasing number of governments, large agrobusinesses and private investors view farmland as a priority investment, either to ensure food security, develop their business and/ or provide a safe heaven for wealth. While widely seen as a problem in the global South, land grabbing has become a reality in Europe as well. On a different level, some landowners are holding onto unused farmland or speculating on land prices, in the hopes that prices will increase as a result of urban development.
Lack of tenure security
In many European countries, farmers access land through tenancy: they rent their land from one or several landowners. In most cases, the tenancy conditions are very unfavourable to the farmers: the duration is limited, prices go up, landowners refuse to renew the lease, fail to provide certainty or try to negotiate in their favour(i.e. higher rent). These situations create obstacles for farmers who wish to develop their activities in a long term and sustainable way. Insecurity of land tenure has other knock-on effects, for example making it harder to access bank loans to develop the farm business.
Competition between food and energy
The EU set itself an objective of sourcing 10% of its energy from biofuels by 2020. This decision sparked a rapid development of energy crops in some European countries (e.g. Germany, France, Poland). This negatively impacts land available for food production and agroecological forms of farming.
All over Europe, civil society initiatives are taking action to secure access to land for agroecological farming. It can be achieved by freeing the land through citizen investment, agreements with public authorities, knowledge transfer or land stewardship agreements. These have to be up-scaled and more ideas and methods need to be developed to increase agroecology throughout Europe!
One of the principal stumbling blocks in this process is the exclusion of small-scale agroecological farming from Europe’s mainstream agricultural vision. In an attempt to demonstrate the value that these enterprises possess, the Access to Land Network has produced a series of papers, which are introduced in the article below.