We, citizens, farmers’ organisations, rural development organisations, civic movements in favour of local and sustainable agriculture, environmental organisations, and human rights organisations, are calling upon the European Parliament to adopt a position on sustainable and fair EU governance of agricultural land, and to call upon the European Commission to adapt existing regulations and policies and develop future ones so that they contribute to preserving and managing farmland as our common wealth.
In a global context of rising tensions around agricultural land, European citizens, civil society organisations and political representatives need to acknowledge that Europe is also directly affected and to take action. Recent studies have shown that there is a very real and urgent issue concerning the governance of land in Europe. Pressures currently imposed on land use and management directly affect our working and living conditions, our quality of life and solidarity between European citizens and with the rest of the world, as well as the next generations. They indeed translate in: environmental degradation of soil, biodiversity, water and air, as well as reduced capacity to mitigate climate change; inadequate access to healthy and quality food and negative impact on communities’ food sovereignty in Europe and in the global South; and destruction of agricultural jobs, rural activities and economies, which could provide a living and offer a desirable trade to many EU residents.
The scale, depth and pace of the current wave of rising tensions around farmland gives reason for great concern about current and future enjoyment of human rights worldwide. European States have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, and more especially the right to food of people living in Europe and abroad. A sustainable and fair EU governance of farmland is part of existing human rights obligations of European States and a way to ensure food sovereignty and the right to adequate food and nutrition.
Farmland is a complex resource. It is all at once: an asset of private or public owners; the ground for a wide array of human activities (food, leisure); and, like water or air, an essential resource which is necessary to all as a source of food, water, and rich and balanced ecosystems. As the major component of EU territory, agricultural land is also a decisive factor shaping our landscapes and quality of life. As the physical basis of farmers’ activities, it is an essential basis for job creation, local activities and lively rural areas.
There are four types of pressures currently surrounding agricultural land in Europe:
- The destruction of agricultural land:
We have forgotten that agricultural land is a non-renewable resource, and are mindlessly destroying it at a fast pace, to make way for urban and infrastructure developments. A large part of these developments are taking place near urban areas, which are often the most fertile land. As was done with natural areas, we therefore need to start considering EU farmland as a precious and non-renewable resource to be preserved and protected.
- The destruction of farmland ecosystems:
Farming practices overall lead to the destruction of biodiversity, the pollution of water and air, the homogenisation of landscapes and the depletion of their very basis: soil fertility. Existing studies are particularly alarming and point to the need for a radical reorientation of agricultural models towards agro-ecology.
- Land concentration:
For decades, the Common Agricultural Policy and national agricultural policies have predominantly encouraged the modernisation of European agriculture, in the shape of specialisation, mechanisation, intensification, and land consolidation. While, after the second world war, a major transformation was needed to increase food production, the corollary environmental damages as well as economic and social impacts in terms of jobs loss and the destruction of social and economic fabric in rural areas are increasingly recognised. Large to very large farms predominantly go hand in hand with limited employment; homogeneity of production; long-supply chains and disconnection from local consumers, suppliers and communities; and the absence of on-farm processing or other activities. The overall policy focus on large farms means that small to medium-scale farms –most of which are economically and environmentally sustainable – are lacking the necessary support (e.g. access to credit, grants, etc.). The latter also tend to be evicted in their access to land by the former, in the current context of mostly unregulated land markets. Finally, large to very large farms are more difficult to take over for new entrants.
- Blockage of generational renewal and new entrants:
With most EU farmers above 55, the coming decade will see a massive change of hands of land and farms. Yet, the current functioning of land markets and the overall orientations of agricultural policies do not adequately encourage farm transfers and the establishment of new entrants. Frequent obstacles are the lack of technical and human support to transferors and future farmers, the burden of investment costs needed to get established, the lack of tenure security, etc. Small farmers, organic farmers and farmers engaging in “atypical” farming activities (direct marketing, high added value, future farmers who do not have a family background in agriculture) are faced with additional difficulties and lack of support. Yet, this generational renewal can be a unique opportunity to dramatically reorientate European agriculture towards ecological, economically and socially sustainable forms of farming.
To ensure the primacy of users, first of which farmers, and long-term social needs in the use and management of agricultural land, farmland needs to be addressed as a policy issue, on regional, national and European levels. Policy-makers must ensure that land is used in a way that fulfils long term social needs in terms of preservation of agricultural use of the land, local quality food production, conservation of natural resources and biodiversity, job creation, renewal of farming generations, balance between urban and rural territories and population, and landscape conservation.
Most regulations and policies regulating agricultural land (land planning, tax law, environmental regulations, etc.) are within the competences of national states and local authorities. Yet, farmland is directly or indirectly affected by a range or EU regulations and policies, notably in the following areas:
Environment: renewable energy directive (2009/28/EC), nitrates directive (91/676/EEC), water framework directive (2000/60/EC), etc.
Regional policy, mobility and transport: development of large transport and other infrastructures, social and territorial cohesion,
Common agricultural policy: overall agricultural orientations, land use and its evolution, land prices, young farmers, high nature value, etc.
As we have celebrated the International Year of Family Farming and need to ensure its continuation, and as we are entering the International Year of Soils, it is important to recognise the major contribution and potential of small- to medium-scale family and peasant agriculture. Reorientating EU policies and regulations in favour of sustainable and fair access to land and agriculture could bring an essential contribution to the Europe 2020 Strategy. It can most directly create employment and activity, contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as energy sustainability, and contribute to poverty reduction and social inclusion.
To ensure that agricultural land does not remain a blind spot of European policies and regulations,
In application of a human rights-based approach,
And on the basis of the current legislative framework, its necessary continuous monitoring and the need to comply with the best international standards,
We are therefore asking the European Parliament to:
Furthermore, in order to duly ensure a sound implementation of the new CAP, at the service of the general interest of the Europeans for the years to come, we request the European Parliament, to:
Finally, in view of the necessary developments for a necessary further enhancement of the CAP for the next period, we suggest to engage the necessary policy changes, and namely the following legislative developments, to ensure the right to food and fair and sustainable land tenure:
European Confederation Via Campesina, Europe
Terre de liens, France
Italian Association for Organic Farming (Associazione Nazionale per l’Agricoltura Biologica- AIAB), Italy
Regionalwert AG, Germany
CEEweb for Biodiversity, international
Demeter international, international
European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Banks and Financiers (FEBEA), Europe
Friends of the Earth Europe
Groupe de Bruges, Europe
IFOAM EU, Europe
Slow Food, international
Transnational institute, international
WWF European Policy Office, Europe
Amis de la Terre, France
Asociación Mandoibai de Etxarri-Aranatz, Spain
Asociacion para la custodia del territorio y el desarrollo sostenible (ACUDE), Spain
Bio Consom’acteurs, France
Biodynamic Land Trust, UK
Bionekazaritza, organic farming organisation of the Basque country, Spain
Bündnis junge Landwirtschaft (BjL), Germany
Centro Internazionale Crocevia, Italy
Col.lectiu l’Esquella, Spain
Centro de Estudios Rurales y de Agricultura Internacional (CERAI), Spain
Confédération paysanne, France
Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricultores y Ganaderos (COAG), Spain
Coordination GASAP/ SEGAL, Belgium
De Landgenoten, Belgium
Development Agency of Sakana County, Spain
Die Agronauten, Germany
Escola de Pastors de Catalunya, Spain
Federación de Comités de Solidaridad con el África Negra UMOYA, Spain
Fédération des Associations pour le développement de l’emploi agricole et rural (FADEAR), France
Fédération des Parcs naturels régionaux (FN PNR), France
Fédération Nationale des Centres d’Initiatives pour Valoriser l’Agriculture et le Milieu Rural (FN CIVAM), France
Federazione nazionale Pro Natura, Italy
Fédération unie de groupements d’éleveurs et d’agriculteurs (FUGEA), Belgique
Graëllsia, Grup d’Estudis i Comunicació Ambiental, Catalonia, Spain
Grup de defensa del Ter, Spain
Junge Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (jAbL), Germany
La Nef, France
Llavors Orientals, Catalonia, Spain
Mouvement d’action paysanne (MAP), Belgium
Mouvement interrégional des AMAP (MIRAMAP), France
Nature et Progrès, France
Nourish Scotland, UK
Oxfam France, France
Real Farming Trust, UK
Scottish Crofting Federation, UK
Sindicato de Obreros del Campo, Spain
Sindicato Labrego Galego, Spain
Sociedad Española de Ornitología- SEO Birdlife, Spain
Soil Association, UK
SolaWi (German CSA network), Germany
Terra franca, Spain
Xarxa de custodia del territori, Spain