EU Parliament calls for better access to land for small and medium farmers

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The European Parliament has called for urgent action to combat the concentration of agricultural land and to provide access to land for small and medium farmers. On April 27, it adopted a resolution and approved with a large majority an own-initiative report that recognizes the problem of land concentration in the EU and demands adequate responses. Land grabbing, the large-scale purchase of land for financial investment and industrial agricultural production, is no longer just a problem for developing countries. The report shows that not only in the former communist countries, but all over Europe, corporations are buying up large areas of land, often through legal loopholes. This has further increased the level of farmland concentration and tenure across the EU. Currently, only 3% of farms control more than 52% of arable land in Europe, whereas 76.2% of farms control only 11.2% of the agricultural land. The resolution underscores that this places inequality of land use in the EU – with a Gini coefficient of 0,82 – on a par with that of countries such as Brazil, Columbia and the Philippines, which are infamous for their notoriously unfair land distribution.

The impact of this land concentration on rural areas is devastating: Existing small- and medium-size farms or new entrants can hardly access land at fair prices. In addition, the land rush is boosted by the subsidies of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Around 80% of CAP subsidies go to only 20% of farms. This trend runs counter to the European sustainable, multifunctional agricultural model, in which family farms are an important feature, the resolution text says. The European Parliament therefore calls on both the EU Commission and the governments of the Member States to stop the further concentration of Europe’s agricultural areas. “The question of land distribution also raises the question of the socially desirable form of agriculture,” said Maria Heubuch, who shadowed the report for the Greens/EFA Group. „Let's face the facts: Concentration of land in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations is poison for rural regions. Jobs are being cut, added value is declining, and people’s relationship to food and confidence in agriculture are lost,” she added.

The resolution clearly “recognises the importance of small-scale family farms for rural life, since they play an active role in the economic fabric of rural areas by conserving the cultural heritage and maintaining rural life, sustaining social life and making sustainable use of natural resources, in addition to producing a sufficient amount of healthy and high-quality food”. It calls on the Member States “to give small and medium-sized local producers, new entrants and young farmers – while ensuring equal gender access – priority in the purchase and rental of farmland, including pre-emptive rights where established, as the ownership of as much as possible of the land they farm is in the interest of a sustainable and reliable development of their farms, particularly at a time when non-farmers are increasingly interested in purchasing agricultural plots.” The resolution also calls on the Member States to focus their land-use policies on using available tools – such as taxation, aid schemes and CAP funding – to maintain a family-farm-based agricultural model throughout the EU.“

The European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) and the Hands on The Land coalition welcomed the adoption of the report. They said the report could serve as a starting point to develop regulation at the European level to prevent land grabbing by large (often non farming) companies. “The European Parliament is now recognizing that it is time to redirect European and national land policies in order to prevent land speculation and to support peasant farming. This will result in more employment in the countryside and a fairer use of our European agricultural lands to provide nutritious and healthy food available for all, also for those who are most affected by the protracted economic crisis” said Antonio Onorati, member of the Coordinating Committee of ECVC. The organisations hope that the report will help to push the EU Commission to propose legislative changes for fairer land governance. (ab)

Picture credit: Green Media Box

This news item was originally featured on the Global Agriculture website.