South Western France is a place where competition for land is rife, both among farmers – with a strong pre-eminence of maize growers and wine producers – and between farmers and tourist residences. When a piece of land was about to be lost by their farmers, local CSAs mobilised so strongly that they managed to reverse the situation and preserve the land and its local food system.
For decades, Christophe Sonneville had an organic orchard of 450 trees on four hectares, plus three hectares of cereals in Rivières, Tarn. In 2013, he decided to stop farming for personal reasons. He then offered to sell his land to his neighbour, who was also an organic fruit farmer selling his produce to the same CSA groups, called AMAPs in France. But the local agricultural land market regulating agency, SAFER decided to pre-empt the sale and allocate it to a neighbouring maize grower. The latter sought to expand his farm so as to gain access to new water resources as well as to receive more European subsidies. His plan was to uproot the apple trees and develop non-organic maize production on the land.
The local AMAP network, consisting of 22 AMAPs and 15 farmers then started a mobilisation and media campaign. They organised protests, meetings, a petition and public events such as a “sit-in picnic”. They asked for the orchard to be sold to Christophe’s neighbour, and for the remaining three hectares to be used for organic vegetable growing. Local AMAPs were already partnering with farmers producing meat, fish, cheese, apples and flour, but not vegetables so there was an existing need.
To strengthen the mobilisation, members of the local AMAP network established the association “Terre de Rivières” (“Land of Rivières”) in December 2015. Its mission is to acquire farmland so as to preserve land for organic farming and to support new agroecological farms.
As a result of this strong mobilisation, the SAFER agreed to reconsider its choice. It sold the four hectares of orchard to Christophe’s neighbour, so that they remain in organic fruit production. It also sold the remaining three hectares of land to Terre de Rivières so that it could be rented to an organic grower who will sell his produce to local AMAPs.
The AMAPs’ mobilisation quickly found growing support from a range of local stakeholders. First and foremost, the local authority, the “Communauté de Communes Tarn et Dadou”, which is a grouping of 29 municipalities (small towns and villages), bringing together 51,000 inhabitants. The president (mayor) is a farmer who has always promoted the development of local agriculture. In 2012, it supported the establishment of a vegetable farm incubator , called “L’Essor maraicher”. From the start, the incubator also involved the local AMAP network and the Chamber of Agriculture.
Both the local authority and the farm incubator are now members of Terre de Rivières. After initial tensions regarding the allocation of the orchard, the SAFER and the Agricultural Chamber also agreed to work in partnership with Terre de Rivières. Several local associations promoting agroecology and rural development also started collaborating with the AMAP network, to establish Terre de Rivières, acquire the land and find a new grower.
Terre de Rivières is about to buy the three hectares of land for €34,000. It raised the money locally, with the support of Terre de Liens. Money came from donations by AMAP members, some of the AMAP, other interested citizens, as well as local stakeholders, such as the local Friends of the Earth association, an organic supermarket (Biocoop), and a local company. Technically, money was raised via the Terre de Liens Foundation, which made it easier to organise the fundraising and entitled individual donors to tax exemptions. Once the new grower starts his business, Terre de Rivières will then donate the land and buildings to the Terre de Liens Foundation. Terre de Liens will then lease the land to the new grower, under an environmental lease.
The farm incubator is now organising a tender for projects, to find a prospective farmer wishing to experiment a growing project on the three hectares of land. The prospective grower will then benefit from legal portage, support and mentoring for two to three years, so as to develop his farm business in a protected environment. Meanwhile, Terre de Rivières is organising irrigation and a farm building and finding an outlet for the future grower.
Buoyed by the success of this first mobilisation, Terre de Rivières is now planning to find new land to protect and to support more entries into farming that will benefit local food systems. This experience has also led the local authority to designate a town councillor responsible for strategic land watch in each of its 29 municipalities.
This case study is included in the study Access to Land and CSA: stories from Europe, 2017
Terre de Liens Foundation