17.05.2019 |

EU farming policy needs to support sustainable farms, urges report

Subsidies for sustainable farming (Photo: CC0)

The EU must urgently reform its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to protect the environment and the climate, improve animal welfare and promote small and medium-sized sustainable farms, says a new report released on Tuesday. The Agriculture Atlas 2019, published by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Friends of the Earth Europe and BirdLife Europe, says that the EU promotes unsustainable farming practices with almost 60 billion euros per year. Every citizen pays 114 euros into the EU’s agriculture fund. In the budget period 2014–2020, direct payments account for 72% of the overall CAP budget. Most of these subsidies are still granted without the fulfilment of goals such as conserving the environment, keeping animals in appropriate conditions, protecting water, birds and insects, and maintaining life and livelihoods in rural areas.

Across the EU as a whole, 80% of direct payments go to just 20% of farms. Over 30% of the total goes to just 131,000 or 2% of the EU’s 6.7 million farm holdings which receive subsidies. “Today's farming policy is highly inefficient, ineffective, and inequitable,” said Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. The report explains that these direct payments are inefficient because they are paid to all farmers on the basis of hectares farmed, rather than linked to specific outcomes and objectives. “They are ineffective because they do not tackle the root problem of low incomes on some farms, which is low productivity. They are inequitable because such a large share goes to farms where incomes are well above the average both for farming and for the economy as a whole,” the report reads. The authors stress that payments tied to area disproportionately benefit large, industrialized farms, while goals to minimize and adapt to climate change, protect the environment and promote rural development are poorly served. “Instead of mainly supporting the biggest, agro-industrial players the CAP needs specific instruments and targets which coherently support sustainable farms, which are the ones that manage to link healthy food, care for the environment and employment and thus better perspectives for our European regions,” Unmüßig added.

The Agriculture Atlas 2019 also shows that the number of European farms is decreasing. Between 2003 and 2013, one-third of all farms in the EU closed down. This trend affected Europe as a whole: half of the EU’s member countries lost between one-third (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland, the UK, etc.) and two-thirds (Bulgaria, Slovakia) of their farms. The land is now worked by others. Large and very large farms are increasing in number and economic importance. Average farm size has increased all over Europe, but particularly in the East. On average, the largest farms are in the Czech Republic (130 hectares, up from 80 hectares ten years earlier) and northern Europe, while the smaller ones are in southern and eastern Europe. Farms over 100 hectares account for only 3% of the EU’s farms, but their numbers have risen by 16% from 2005 to 2013. They now use 52% of all agricultural land. “Large farms often go hand-in-hand with the loss of jobs, a decline in diversity of farming systems, a rise in intensive practices – and environmental depletion,” according to the report. “Small-scale, family farmers are under threat like never before. With our natural world and the climate on the verge of breakdown, the EU needs to do everything it can to support these farmers who farm with nature, and stop subsidising dangerous industrial agriculture which leads to farming without farmers,” said Stanka Becheva, food sovereignty campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

The three publishing organisations call for a fundamental reform of the EU farming policy. They argue that a radical change in the CAP is crucial to fulfil the Paris climate commitments, prevent the dangerous consequences of environmental degradation and revive rural life in Europe. “There is enough money in EU coffers for a different type of farm policy. But it has to be used in a way that rewards agricultural services that serve the common good,” they write in the introduction to the report. They warn that current proposals of the EU Commission and the opinion of the outgoing Agricultural Committee in the European Parliament for the new CAP after 2020 disregard the environmental and social potential of the CAP by far. “The Common Agricultural Policy needs to be taken as an opportunity to unite the European continent by deconcentrating and spreading fair and equal subsidies throughout all our regions, enhance thus social cohesion, provide the rural population with long-term development perspectives and reinforce the positive perception of Europe”, says Unmüßig. “We all need to get out and vote in this month's European elections for candidates who will build a better Europe and a safer, more sustainable food and farming system,” Becheva added. (ab)

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