Earlier this summer, Wallonia, Belgium saw a regionwide reform of its farm tenancy legislation with the new provisions coming into effect on January 1, 2020. Terre-en-vue, with its partners in the agricultural land platform (PFFA), have been involved in this legislative adventure since 2014. But why is a reform needed? And what are the main changes?
The reform was based on the analysis that the rental market for land is blocked: tenant farmers benefitted from important protections which, unfortunately, were too often abused meaning land owners were becoming less and less inclined to lease their land. This resulted in the proliferation of temporary lease contracts and the use of farm management companies, making access to land difficult and any security of tenure precarious. It became urgent therefore to restore a better balance and limit the abuses. Terre-en-vue also saw the opportunity to include environmental clauses in the new tenancy contracts allowing both parties to agree on certain management arrangements.
1 / No more oral leases. All contracts must be written and registered ensuring clarity over the contract start and end date. Registration will also contribute to supplement the data of the land observatory (currently focused on land sales).
2 / Eradicating mis-use and abuse: in particular, by removing the right of pre-emption of sale (right of priority in case of sale) when the tenant farmer is over 67 years old, that he benefits from a pension retirement and that he has no serious buyer; introducing an effective sanction in the case of subletting; putting an end to abusive privileged transfers (in the event of sale of the land).
3 / Tenancy duration: the core of the reform concerns the duration of the tenancy often considered by the owners as "perpetual". The maximum duration now is 36 years (4 renewals of 9 years).
Finally, with regard to environmental aspects, the reform has included a mandatory environmental inventory, which will make it possible to better consider any damage caused or improvements made to the property. The two environmental clauses which are authorised so far (relating to soil fertility and the maintenance of certain elements identified in the inventory) were reinforced by the introduction of a sanction in the event of non-compliance. Other clauses may also be introduced by specific, authorised organizations or in specific areas.
In this context, the Terre-en-vue cooperative has been explicitly recognized as an authorised organization, with specific rights. However, the reform has not quite lived up to Terre-en-Vue’s demands, insofar as not all the clauses it currently includes in its environmental easements it signs with farmers have been included in the new farm tenancy contract.
Terre-en-vue are aware that it is not through farm tenancy contracts alone that it will bring about a transition to agroecological farming, even if the new legislation could have been a means to help achieve this (albeit a limited one, given its private nature covering only the parties to the contract). Agroecological transition will come first and foremost through the transmission of knowledge and local innovations, which Terre-en-vue support by organizing workshops and meetings within its farmers’ agroecological commission and by bringing farmers and citizens closer together.
Article based on TeV article on its own website: https://terre-en-vue.be/actualite/article/bail-a-ferme-quelles-nouveautes