A Dutch study, prepared by scientists from Wageningen Agricultural University, says that EU green farming projects have largely failed. The study, published in the Nature magazine, found out that EU agri-environment projects in the Netherlands had little beneficial effect on preserving biodiversity and protecting bird wildlife.
Dutch scientists have found out that fields participating in EU agri-environment schemes are no richer in plant and animal species than conventionally managed farmland. The study suggests improvements in the monitoring of such schemes to ensure that their annual EU subsidy of 1.7 billion euro per year is well spent.
Dutch farmers have been paid since 1981 to delay mowing or grazing and reduce fertilizer inputs to their fields. The scheme is intended to give meadow birds time to nest and hatch their chicks, and to encourage wild plants in field edges. The EU has introduced a similar scheme in 1992.
However, the scheme seems to have failed as there is a lack of food for birds in less fertilized fields, and the general shortage of plant species available to colonize field edges.
The agri-environment scheme is different from organic farming that does not use chemicals at all and has very stringent rules, for example requiring the planting of trees and shrubs. Studies by the Washington State University show that organic farming is a better alternative because removing all chemicals from farming enhances biodiversity.
The UK'sRoyal Society for the Protection of Birds(RSPB), which advocates the introduction of such schemes in Britain, has disputed the results of the Dutch study. The RSPB said that Dutch scientists had examined older schemes introduced since 1981 which were known to be problematic. Two recent schemes introduced in Britain have been very successful, according to the RSPB.
Germanyis leading the efforts to promote more organic farming in Europe. Germany believes that more funding could be used for greener farming under the new rural development regulation. Under the regulation, Member States can shift up to 20 percent of the CAP towards rural development.
Franceis the biggest net beneficiary of the CAP subsidies and is seen as the strongest opposition to any reform of the CAP. While Germany outspokenly supports a radical change in favour of organic farming, France is more reserved and talks only of promoting environmentally friendly agriculture.
Several EU Member States have recognised that a radical reform of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is necessary following a number of devastating farm crises, from BSE to foot-and-mouth disease. The farm policy reform is also necessary if the EU is to take part in the next round of global trade liberalisation talks and expand to more than ten new members.
A mid-term review of CAP is planned in 2002. Replacing production subsidies to farmers with payments for environmental projects is one of the preferred options for the future CAP reform. About 4 per cent of the CAP budget is now spent on agri-environment schemes. This type of spending is expected to rise to 10 percent in the near future.
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