August 2012. Some thirty participants from Belgium, Germany, Lithuania, Italy, Spain, the UK and France meet on the Charmilles farm, in the Beaujolais. They are coming from a wide array of organisations interested in promoting access to land for agroecological farmers. Most are land trusts or associations directly managing land to make it accessible for new entrants, particularly for organic farmers and newcomers to farming: Terre-en-vue and Terre de Liens, the Soil Association Land Trust and Biodynamic Land Trust, Campi Aperti and Terra franca. Others are training or advising new farmers or focusing on land stewardship with the confidence that agriculture and nature preservation can go hand in hand: Land-in-zicht, Rurbans, Xarxa de custodia del territory, AIAB, Terre future, Viva Sol. A handful of key partners are also present: Via Campesina, Demeter Europe, Urgenci and ethical banks.
The meeting is officially the launch of a two-year programme of experience-sharing, funded by the European Commission. But the exchanges are so rich and so strong the need to share knowledge and tools, find solidarity and raise the political significance of access to land that in just a weekend, participants decide to set up an informal European network on Access to land for agroecology.
Over the years, we have organised many field visits, workshops, trainings and peer learning sessions to get to know each other, discover the context which shapes how each are working in their country, and understand the mission, activities and ways of working of each partner. Along the way, we have invited other emerging groups and been joined by new members, such as Eco Ruralis (RO), NPP (CZ), BioBoden (DE) or the Real Farming Trust (UK).
We have also built many resources: some are awareness-raising tools to shed light on land issues and solutions (infographics, videos, country studies…); others document practical, innovative solutions developed by our organisations as well as an increasing number of partner grassroots organisations to support entry into farming and secure continuation of agroecological peasant farmers. From a focus on land, this has led us to explore many facets of farming, from the upstream to the downstream of farmers’ entry – i.e. the role of CSA groups, farm incubators, extra-family farm succession, working with local authorities, engaging with citizens and volunteers or monitoring farms’ impacts.
Along the way, we have consolidated ties with a family of organisations mobilised to advocate for access to land, agroecology, organic agriculture, peasant farming and food sovereignty: the European coordination Via campesina, Urgenci, the Transnational Institute and IFOAM EU, as well as Demeter EU, aGter or FIAN. Together, we have pushed for a better recognition of land issues and the need for policy changes on the EU agenda. Our petition, supported by some 90 organisations across Europe, was successfully heard by the European Parliament and connected with the first parliamentary report to be adopted on land concentration and access to land. It also built the basis for a joint paper ‘Roots of Resilience: land policy for an agroecological transition in Europe’.
In 10 years, the context has changed significantly: land preservation and access to land have become recognised as issues in Europe, and not just in the South. There is a burgeoning movement of grassroots organisations and groups focusing on preserving farmland, countering urban and infrastructure developments, supporting the entry of new farmers, engaged in local and national advocacy, and developing new solidarities between urban mobilisations and farmers’ actions, as attested by our 2019 survey and 2020 Nyeleni Europe publication ‘Your land, my land, our land’.
Most of all, trends have accelerated. Climate urgency is real, as is the loss of rare and ordinary biodiversity. Millions of farms are closing down and the number of farmers is plummeting: for decades now, European agriculture has undergone a kind of silent compulsory redundancy. With the ageing of farmers, millions of hectares will change hands in the next 15 years. What becomes of this land when it reaches the market will structure the future of European food and farming systems. It could fuel land concentration, industrial agriculture, long-supply chains or be a unique opportunity to combine the renewal of generations and system change -with new agroecological farmers entering the sector to maintain a dense network of small to medium-size farms, producing quality food for local markets, stewarding the land, creating jobs, activities and social cohesion.
While celebrating our 10th anniversary, we are taking stock of the past and looking ahead. Network members are using the year to review past activities and results, identify new challenges, and plan for our next decade of work. We will be renewing or reconfirming our end goals, agreeing our strategic priorities, improving our ways of working, and hopefully welcoming new member organisations. We will also be celebrating the human and political adventure of the past 10 years, as well as the rich engagement of all those partners and allies through which we have learnt, grown and maintained hope. In doing so, we also recognise the key role of our funders – FPH, Fondation de France, Fonds Germes La Nef, and now Porticus - who have been faithful and extremely supportive to us since the beginning.
Rendez-vous in the winter to know more about our new orientations and plans!
Pictures - description and credits