All eyes are currently on India, where farmers are taking the streets to protest legislative changes in national agri-food policy.
But there are also rumblings of discontent closer to home. Are European farmers set to follow their example after the reform of the EU’s farming subsidies program?
The transition to more sustainable food systems carries huge challenges and trade-offs: that’s one of the most recent “buzzwords” of the agri-food policy circles.
The term might be getting a bit tired, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Farmers are both the first to understand that adapting to a fast-changing world will not be that easy, and the first to understand the necessity of doing so.
Their unique position in our societies means they are also among the most vulnerable to the effects of major societal changes.
Therefore, farmers demonstrations are, historically, the warning signs that something is wrong in the social-economic fabric.
In the 14th Century, after uncertainty created by the Black Death pandemic and in the unbearable tax burden as a consequence of the Hundred Years’ War, an uprising of peasants took place in England and led to riots all over the country.
The Wat Tyler’s rebellion also demonstrated how the feudal system was unsuitable for the major changes in the society which came alongside the Renaissance and the Modern Age.
Nowadays, farmers’ demonstrations in Europe are mostly linked with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Exactly one year ago, farmers from across Europe fired up their tractors and drove to Brussels rallying against proposed cuts in the EU’s agriculture budget.
And a protest is in the pipeline in Slovakia, where the agriculture ministry has announced the introduction of the CAP’s redistributive payment option that will shift a portion of EU farm subsidies to favour small farms.
Support (or rather, lack thereof) for small farmers is a key issue and the Commission wants to tackle it.
To date Slovakia has not applied the instrument specially designed by the EU to support farmers with smaller holdings and, as a result, now has the most concentrated allocation of farm subsidies across the EU, with 20% of farms receiving 94% of direct payments.
The ministry justifies the change by the fact that small farmers have so far been disadvantaged in the redistribution system of European agricultural subsidies.
The problem is that they want to introduce a heavy redistributive system overnight: under the new rules, all farms will receive an additional payment of €150 for the first 28 hectares, which would make this by far the highest redistributive payment in the EU.
While the country’s largest agricultural association has not rejected redistributing payments out of hand, it doesn’t want the change to be introduced in these terms.
Similarly, in Spain the implementation of the transitional CAP has been criticised by the farmers’ associations that asked for the head of agriculture minister Luis Planas.
Although they’ve not taken the streets yet, farmers in Andalusia claim they are going to lose €78 million from the new transitional CAP rules.
The CAP reform under discussion brings many changes along with it, including new concepts like eco-schemes and new conditionalities (like the social one).
As a tool of change, reactions to this transition are to be expected. But a reaction to another transition is leading to an uprising in another part of the world.
For over two months, farmers in India have been protesting over three laws the Indian Parliament passed in September 2020 intended to liberalise how and to whom farmers can sell their produce.
Shall we expect something similar in Europe? Our take is: not really.
In India, the government brought in new laws which it claims are meant to raise farmers’ incomes and transform Indian agriculture, aiming to end “excessive regulatory interference”.
To encourage the private sector to invest in storage, transportation and other parts of the agriculture supply chain, farmers will now be free to market their products to a more varied group of buyers.
Farmers fear that the new laws will detriment small farmers by driving down prices and farmers off their lands. They are also concerned about the unbalanced negotiating power with a powerful corporate sector.
So, the transition itself is a bit different here, as the one that Europe is seeking is more on sustainability.
But differences do not end here.
Indian farmers carry considerable political clout, unlike farmers in Europe. In the past, they’ve brought the nation’s cities to a near standstill in disputes with the government, and they could do so again.
India’s rural economy is still largely dependent on farming and related activities, while in Europe the issue of rural depopulation is perceived as a gaping wound.
Agrifood news this week
Fight over inclusion of labour rights in CAP heats up
The ongoing debate over the inclusion of provisions on workers’ rights in the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has kicked up a notch with the publication of a letter from more than 300 European organisations advocating for social conditionality. Natasha Foote has more.
EU’s family farming model at risk of dying out, warns MEP
Family farming as we know it is under threat and this may be the last generation of EU family farmers, according to Sinn Féin MEP Chris MacManus, who raised concerns over land concentration and called for a larger safety net for small farms. Natasha Foote has the story.
France’s management of fish stock positive except in Mediterranean
The French institute for sea exploitation, known as Ifremer, appeared optimistic when presenting its 2020 report on the state of fish stocks caught in France, but they still called for continued efforts, particularly in the Mediterranean where the situation is more worrying. EURACTIV France reports.
News from the bubble
Chemicals Strategy: The French media Contexte has published a leak of the EU Council position on the Chemicals Strategy. It shows that ministers are pushing to include agriculture and digitalisation among areas that need to develop synergies with other areas when it comes to the management of chemicals. Ministers also seem also to have rephrased the part on the export of hazardous chemicals, although Commission sources and different stakeholders confirmed to EURACTIV that are more of cosmetic changes.
WTO reform: On Thursday, the European Commission presented a new approach to trade policy, recognising the contribution of agriculture in restoring the credibility of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In a document containing the EU’s proposal to reform the organisation, the EU executive expressed the belief that agriculture remains a core interest for much of the WTO membership, although negotiations on agricultural market access are largely blocked and their revival does not seem likely for the time being.
‘Negative’ outlook for agri sector: The outlook for the EU agriculture market is negative for the next months due to the reinforcement of certain restrictions in member states, trade developments (impacting wine, cheeses, processed goods, olives, sugar, potatoes, biofuels, etc.) or animal health-related issues (e.g. avian influenza, ASF), according to a new analysis from EU farmers association COPA-COGECA who compiled a report on the effects of COVID-19 on the sector between last November and now. This is due to changes in consumption (e.g. closure of the food services sector and the repercussions on high-value products) and trade dynamics, the report concludes.
Organic plan: The EU Commission’s overdue plan on organics is expected to be released by the end of March, according to Wolfgang Burtscher, director-general for DG AGRI, who confirmed it during this year’s BIOFACH conference, a trade fair for organic food. He added that this will not contain financial envelopes, but that the Commission intends to create these through via the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Rural areas development: The Commission published a new support study on the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on territorial development of rural areas, including socio-economic aspects, which found that through its various measures and instruments, the CAP can contribute to a balanced territorial development of rural areas and the improvement of socioeconomic and social inclusion. However, outcomes were found to vary considerably depending on the characteristics of rural regions and the choice of policy measures and instruments.
Mink farming threat: Early detection of coronavirus should be a priority objective for monitoring activities at mink farms in the EU, according to a new report compiled by EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The report concludes that all mink farms should be considered at risk from SARS-CoV-2 and that monitoring should include active measures such as testing of animals and staff in addition to passive surveillance by farmers and veterinarians. As of January 2021, the virus has been detected at 400 mink farms in nine countries in the EU/EEA.New geographical indication: The European Commission has approved the application of ‘Liptovské droby’ from Slovakia in the Register of Protected Geographical Indications (PGI). Liptovské droby is a special type of artisanal sausage made according to traditional methods.
Agrifood news from the Capitals
Five Star Movement’s senator Stefano Patuanelli has been appointed as agriculture minister in the new government led by former European Central Bank (ECB) governor Mario Draghi. He takes the helm of Italy’s agriculture sector after having served as industry minister in the previous government. His appointment has been positively received by the relevant agriculture stakeholders. Italian lawmakers are expected to hear him as soon as possible to discuss topics in the Parliament’s agriculture committee, such as EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, the protection of local production and women entrepreneurs in agriculture. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
As part of a campaign to promote mental health in the farming community, the farm safety foundation published a survey this week which found that 133 people in UK farming and the associated agricultural trades took their own lives in 2019-20 and that 88% of farmers under 40 rank poor mental health as the biggest hidden problem facing the industry. The campaign also highlights fears that the coronavirus pandemic may have exacerbated mental health issues for farmers and could continue long after the virus has gone. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)
Germany is supporting the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) from 2022 to 2024 with a total of €88.49 million, increasing the German contribution by 40% compared to the last financing period. Germany remains one of the fund’s most important donors. “The significant increase in our contribution underscores our confidence in the ability of IFAD to permanently improve the food situation in rural areas and to give future prospects to the poor in rural regions, which are particularly affected by the effects of climate change,” reads a government statement. (EURACTIV.de)
The agriculture committee of the Croatian Parliament discussed the draft law on seeds this week, which prompted great public interest and those of representatives in agricultural associations, the civil sector, and the scientific community. The minister of agriculture, Marija Vuckovic, pointed out as the main goal of adopting this law is the regulation of the production, placement on the market and import of agricultural reproductive material, as well as the implementation of the so-called “marketing directives” in national legislation. The opponents, who also protested last week in front of the parliament, claim the proposal of the law on seeds will further complicate the position of Croatian agricultural producers in relation to other EU producers and limit their right to seeds. Furthermore, such a law will mostly affect crop production and potato production, which are the only branches of agriculture in which Croatia is self-sufficient, they said. (Karla Junicic | EURACTIV.com)
Speaking before orange exporters in Murcia, the agriculture minister Luis Planas said he is confident that negotiations with the new Biden administration will ultimately see the tariffs imposed in the Trump era lifted, according to EURACTIV’s partner EFEAgro. Planas acknowledged that the recent extension of these tariffs for a further six months has caused astonishment in the agricultural sector, but reiterated the need to wait until the new US special representative is confirmed in office, with whom the EU will have to negotiate in a process that “takes time”. With regard to the existing problems in the entry of agricultural products into the UK, the minister indicated that there have been no significant incidents with phytosanitary certificates and that the electronic support provided to simplify procedures has helped, as well as the reinforcement of personnel at border inspection points who are alert to “any slightest incident in order to be able to respond” immediately.
Researchers from the University of agriculture in Krakow, together with industrial partners, have used a shipping container to grow vegetables and herbs year-round. Researchers say that cultivation of low leafy vegetables and herbs located in a 12-meter container can be carried out in almost any place on Earth, all year round. LED lamps – the only source of light – with selected radiation determine the size and quality of the plant’s and growth rate. In this form, much less water is used than in a traditional greenhouse or ground system. (Mateusz Kucharczyk | EURACTIV.pl)
The French ministry of agriculture and food has announced its support to school canteens in small rural communities. €50 million are being made available in the framework of the French recovery plan, France Relance, to help canteens develop their chain of supply toward healthier, eco-friendly and local products. As the ministry points out, many schools want to use more fresh products and reduce waste and the use of plastic. However, this ambition comes with an initial investment needed to buy the necessary equipment to stock and transform fresh products as well as invest in audits, training of personnel and new electronic tools. Financial support will thus be available to help the most “fragile” communities in France and its overseas territories in that transition. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)
22 February – EU fisheries ministers will hold an informal video conference hosted by the Portuguese presidency. The only item on the agenda concerns the consultations with the UK on fishing opportunities.
23 February – There is a conference exploring the role that innovation could play in the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy. See here for details.
24 February – There is an AGRI Committee meeting, and you can find the agenda here.
25 February – There is an event on the challenges and opportunities land policy offers for an agroecological transition in Europe in the context of the CAP reform and the Farm to Fork strategy. See here to register.