CAP needs drastic change, says Polish professor

Interview [Unsplash] [Unsplash]

This article is part of our special report Climate change prevention measures in the new CAP.

In an interview with Dr Zbigniew Karaczun of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, EURACTIV Poland’s Mateusz Kucharczyk asked the Polish professor about his views on the Commission’s new CAP proposal, where he urged the EU to enact new laws rather than simply reforming existing regulations.

Dr Zbigniew Karaczun teaches at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and is part of the Environment Protection Department. 

Under the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), less money will be allocated for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) due to the higher priority for other EU policies, such as the New Green Deal. Will agriculture suffer from this?

It will not suffer at all. More money for climate and environmental protection will be beneficial for agriculture. After all, agriculture is vulnerable to climate change – higher temperatures, irregular rainfall or droughts, for example, affect the quantity and quality of crops and their prices.

Moreover, farmers apply to the state for compensation because of disasters such as droughts. All of this costs money, and climate change will simply exacerbate such problems. If climate change goes too far, it may turn out to be catastrophic for European agriculture and, as a result, affect food prices for consumers.

I, therefore, believe that this is a positive signal from the European Commission. On the one hand, agriculture and farmers must adapt to the effects of climate change, and on the other hand, it is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this sector.

Although agricultural production accounts for only 12-14% of total greenhouse gas emissions, the entire food production and land management chain accounts for around 25%-35% of emissions.

Huge resources will be needed to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. Farmers cannot cope with their suffering alone. Therefore, the New Green Deal is in the interest of farmers, because it will make it possible to finance some of these activities.

Critics say that the new CAP will be more focused on climate than on agriculture. It is said that the new rules do not address the real needs of farmers and that there will be less money for direct payments.

Until now, the CAP has been focused primarily on supporting farmers, often without accounting for other aspects. This is changing now. The EU wants agriculture to fulfil certain systemic tasks: that is, to produce good-quality food for the citizens of the member states, but in such a way that it is not harmful to the environment or cause negative social effects.

Meanwhile, it often happens that direct payments are used in such a way that they do not support sustainable agricultural production. Owning and maintaining land in good agricultural condition is not the same as achieving the EU’s social and environmental objectives.

It will also not help to halt climate change. Without this, in the near future, agricultural production conditions will deteriorate significantly, in which case the majority of the EU’s food may be imported into the EU from outside Europe, which would be a disaster.

You raised the issue of direct payments. Critics say that they do not achieve the objective set for them. What other failures of the CAP so far have you seen?

Subsidies exacerbate income differences in rural areas. On the EU scale, 2% of farmers receive almost 80% of the funds allocated for direct payments. It also leads to a change in the structure of farms. Small and medium farms are decreasing, while large ones are getting bigger and bigger. This leads to depopulation and dying out of rural areas.

Another problem remains industrial agriculture and its impact on biodiversity. Currently, all financial support is allocated to increase the efficiency of agricultural holdings, and not to shape an environmentally friendly agricultural landscape.

Some EU countries, such as the Netherlands, have recognised this problem and introduced their own solutions, such as increasing the requirements for clean water and soil quality, which contribute to the production of better-quality food.

In the new CAP, the European Commission intends to pay more attention to smaller farms. What is the reason for this change?

We have reached a situation in which Europe enjoys a surplus of food production, but few people are wondering at what cost this has been achieved.

The reasons for this include, among other things, the indebtedness of farms. For example, in Germany, banks are the real owners of farms. Farmers have to go into debt in order to meet the growing competition. Such a situation is caused by the ‘efficiency’ attitude towards increasing food production aimed at lowering the cost without paying attention to the natural and social costs.

The Commission has recognised this problem and will try to correct it in the coming years. This is how I read out the proposal to increase support per hectare for small and medium-sized farms.

The creation of too many large agricultural enterprises is, in fact, a distortion of the idea of the CAP and its objectives. Perhaps the moment has come to start a serious discussion on the total change in agricultural policy, and not just its small reform of the existing regulations.

So, on the positive side, we have climate care and support for smaller farms. What else in the context of new green objectives of the CAP?

Certainly, there are some proposals for a change in the approach to biodiversity. I mentioned the example of the Netherlands and its initiatives to promote water and soil quality. The fight for a better climate is not just limited to closing mines, segregating waste or not allowing cars into cities. It is also a change in agriculture and the introduction of cultivation techniques that increase the sustainable storage of carbon in soil and biomass.

This is a very serious process, in which concern for biodiversity is equally important. The agricultural landscape can and should be shaped in such a way as to protect biodiversity and reduce the negative impact of agricultural production on the natural environment – soil, water and air quality.

In this context, I welcome the development of conditionality for the payment of direct payments, once strict environmental and climate requirements have been met. This approach has great potential and the effects of these changes need to be closely monitored.

Therefore, the new CAP can be read as an attempt to correct the mistakes of the past and an absolute priority for environmental protection. As much as 40% of the total CAP sum is supposed to contribute to climate action…

Yes, the climate crisis is the greatest challenge for humanity. Agriculture offers very large possibilities of sequestration (absorption) of carbon dioxide in soil. Its use is in the interest of all of us. However, change costs money and farmers cannot bear the financial burden alone. Therefore, the Commission proposal is a step in the right direction.

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