Agrifood CAPitals: Some well-earned R&R

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Welcome to EURACTIV’s first edition of the CAPitals, where we will be bringing you bi-monthly updates on all things European Farming and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including member states’ progress on their national strategic plans.

In this first brief, the EURACTIV network takes a look at 13 recovery and resilience (R&R) plans from 13 EU countries. From digital to food security, what do these plans hold in store for the agrifood sector? Read on to find out more…

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FRANCE

Of the €100 billion recovery package ‘France Relance’ that the French government unveiled in September last year, 1.2% is specifically dedicated to the agri-food sector, with €1.2 billion earmarked for food sovereignty, agroecological transition and climate change adaptation.

French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie highlighted “reconquering our independence” as an absolute priority of the recovery plan, with a particular focus on the agricultural sector.

Unsurprisingly, “reconquering our food sovereignty” is thus the first of three objectives supported by the recovery plan, with €364 million committed to support the resettlement of strategic productions to France and the modernisation of the sector.

This is not only designed to respond to “high consumer expectations” on quality, but also revive the attractiveness of the job in order to attract a new generation of farmers.

The lion’s share is, however, invested into the green transition: no less than €546 million serve this second objective of the ‘France Relance’ scheme on agrifood.

The main priorities in this field include a “wave of conversions” to organic and “high environmental value” (HVE) farming, as well as the modernisation of agro-equipments to push the reduction of pesticides.

Further resources are earmarked for local projects and actors that engage in promoting local, green and healthy food for all, such as shared gardens, public canteens and local associations. 

Lastly, €300 million is to be invested into climate change adaptation in the agriculture and forestry sectors. Farmers are to receive financial support to obtain the equipment they need to protect their crops from extreme weather conditions, while the ministry is supporting a plan of reforestation as part of the French low-carbon strategy aiming at CO2 neutrality by 2050.

Since the launch of France Relance, numerous projects and actors in the agri-food and forestry sectors have already received financial support.

This includes €10 million allocated to companies engaging in the agroecological transition, €6 million to associations promoting local and solidary food supply, and €17 million to actors with an impact on the plant protein sector, which is deemed vital for French food sovereignty. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

GERMANY 

Farming and food are not considered as key priorities in the German recovery and resilience plan, however, investments have been foreseen for digitalisation in the agricultural sector, better recognition of farm workers’ skills, and boosting the use of wood in the building sector.

While agriculture, food, and forestry were not provided with a dedicated chapter in Germany’s €26 billion EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility, the sectors will benefit from some of the specific measures the plan foresees.

In terms of digitalisation, Germany wants to make better use of data as the “commodity of the future” in a number of economic sectors, including agriculture. “Accessibility and use of agricultural data allow for more efficient and more climate- and environmentally friendly agriculture,” the paper reads.

“Farmers who use data-based soil analysis to minimise the use of fertilisers and thereby protect the groundwater and the climate” are an example of the “opportunities that come with analysing reliable and accessible data,” it goes on to explain.

In line with the EU’s flagship policy in this field, the European Data Strategy, Germany wants to help build up a European data space for the agriculture and forestry sectors. Furthermore, the country plans to invest in improving microelectronic technologies used in a number of sectors, including agriculture.

Under the heading of climate policy and energy transition, funds are earmarked to strengthen the use of wood as a climate-friendly building material. The plan also foresees funds to protect forests and better harness their potential for carbon sequestration, as well as make them more resilient to climate change.

Finally, to boost social equity, the strategy plans to implement new tools for recognising professional skills that were acquired informally or abroad and are not formally recognised in Germany. This will apply to a number of sectors, including agriculture.

On 22 June, the European Commission endorsed Germany’s recovery plan, saying it “represents a comprehensive and adequately balanced response to Germany’s economic and social situation”.

However, in terms of climate and environmental targets, a Commission document said that “persistently high ammonia and nitrate levels together with a lower-than-average share of organic farming (…) suggest the need for further greening of agriculture and enabling farmers and foresters to embark on this transition”. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)

BELGIUM

The Belgian recovery plan places a strong emphasis on building a more resilient agricultural sector, with a notable focus on increasing the resilience of the agricultural sector both to the excess and lack of water, which is particularly poignant given the devastation in the aftermath of flooding in the latest weeks of July.

As such, measures will be implemented to tackle the problem of drought in a structural way that positions industry and farmers “as part of the solution”, the plan states. 

This includes the exploitation of alternative water sources and the intelligent management of rainwater and wastewater infrastructure, smart crop choices and innovative water-saving technologies for cost-effective and climate-friendly agriculture, horticulture and industry.

Pointing out that the risk of flooding will worsen with time, Belgium will focus on re-meandering rivers and creating temporary flood zones to provide solutions for flood control, the plan states. 

In line with Commission recommendations, the plan also sets out the need to invest in the green transition for the food sector. To achieve this, Belgium aims to develop an agri-food system that is based on two principles; short food circuits (i.e. direct selling from producer to consumer) and supporting local food production. 

“The aim is to make better use of local resources and production in order to reduce our dependence on imports and world markets in the food sector and at the same time to increase the quality of life of the inhabitants through food and support for the environmental transition,” the plan reads.

Declining levels of innovation and competitiveness due to lack of connectivity was also highlighted as negatively impacting not only the digital sector itself but also other economic sectors, including agriculture.

As such, Belgium will focus on investing in appropriate ultra-high capacity connectivity and addressing the take-up of connectivity services by households and businesses.

The European Commission has already disbursed €770 million to Belgium in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country’s financial allocation. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND

The overall objective of Ireland’s national recovery and resilience plan is to contribute to a “sustainable, equitable, green and digital recovery effort”, in a manner that “complements and supports the Government’s broader recovery efforts”.

Agriculture does not feature highly in this plan, meriting only four mentions in the country’s plan, mostly related to research, innovation and digitalisation.

Notably, agriculture features in the development of Ireland’s new shared government data centre, which aims to replace four of the state’s data centres (including one operated by the department of agriculture), with one purpose-built data centre facility owned and operated by the executive.

In this way, Ireland aims to offer high-quality data centre facilities which are future-proof and efficient. 

On the same theme, the agricultural sector is set to benefit from the Irish government’s proposal to create a new high-speed digital platform.

The plan also sets out that the sector will be eligible for the country’s €72m national grand challenge programme, which uses a “challenge-based approach” to coordinate national research and innovation capacity to address a range of issues, including agriculture. 

The Commission endorsed the plan on 16 July, noting that it earmarked 32% of its total allocation for measures that support the digital transition and 42% of the plan’s total allocation for measures that support climate objectives. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN

The Spanish recovery and resilience plan includes 10 “lever policies”, one of which is titled ‘Urban and rural agenda, agricultural development and the fight against depopulation.’

One part of the Spanish agenda aims at improving the sustainability,  competitiveness and resilience of the agri-food and fisheries sector economically, environmentally and socially.

Spain will receive €69.5 billion euros from the EU for its recovery plan, including €1.051 million for agriculture, fisheries and food sectors.

The investments and reforms focus on improving the efficiency and sustainability of irrigation, boosting the sustainability and competitiveness of agriculture and livestock farming, as well as a strategy to promote digitalisation in the agri-food and rural sectors as a whole.

Agriculture is also included in the parts of the Spanish recovery plan dedicated to the modernisation of public administrations, as well as those related to a national strategy for artificial intelligence.

Within recovery funds for Spanish farming, €563 million will be earmarked for modernising 100,000 hectares of irrigated land, as well as the modernising of horticultural greenhouses and animal health laboratories and promotion of precision farming, energy efficiency and a circular economy.

Furthermore, the Spanish Government is preparing a Strategic Project for the Economic Recovery and Transformation (PERTE) of the agri-food sector.

PERTE aims to bring together the actions of the different levels of the public administration and the private sector. The agri-food sector will be the second one with a PERTE in Spain, where the first one has already been adopted for the transformation of the electric car value chain.

Among the actions for environmental and digital transformation foreseen in the Spanish plan, agriculture preparedness for climate change is highlighted, through the reduction of the use of fertilisers, pesticides, water consumption and antibiotics. Promoting stability in the national and European food supply is also a priority.

The plan includes legal changes underway such as the current Spanish Food Chain Law reform, in order to improve the unbalances between farmers, industry and retail chains, and new rules for sustainable soil nutrition and the implementation of the Spanish Digitalisation Strategy for rural areas.

There are some other legal reforms underway regarding livestock environmental sustainability, for productions like pork or poultry; use of renewable energies in farms; actions against farm closures; and those for the improvement of the taxation system for young farmers. (Mercedes Salas Felipe| efeagro.com)

ITALY

Within the Italian recovery and resilience plan (PNRR), agricultural projects are one of the components of the ‘Green revolution and Ecological transition‘ mission’, which envisages “a double path towards full environmental sustainability.”

On the one hand, the plan focuses on improving waste management and the circular economy, while on the other, it aims to develop a smart and sustainable agri-food supply chain and reduce the environmental impact in one of the Italian excellences, through ‘green’ supply chains”.

To develop this sustainable agri-food chain while improving the environmental performance and competitiveness of farms, the PNRR foresees investments of €2.8 billion euros, of which €800 million is earmarked for the development of logistics for the agri-food sectors, fishing and aquaculture, forestry, floriculture and nursery.

Other €1.5 billion are earmarked to the creation of agricultural energy parks for a total power of 0.43 gigawatts (GW) generated by solar installations placed on the roofs of agricultural buildings. The plan also allocates €500 million for innovation and mechanisation in the agricultural and food sector.

The component in which agriculture is included “responds to the country-specific recommendations to focus investment in the green transition, including in the circular economy,” wrote the EU executive in his evaluation. (Daniele Lettig| EURACTIV.it)

GREECE

Under the aim to modernise and improve the resilience of key economic sectors, Greece proposes €47 million to the digital transformation of the agri-food sector, designed to be a multi-pronged intervention including (a) the digital transformation (both hardware and software) of the agricultural sector, and (b) the promotion of exports in the primary and the secondary sectors of Greek agriculture, stock farming and fisheries.

The investment aims to follow a holistic approach, pursuing the adoption of innovative technologies for promotion, control of Greek product counterfeiting, and networking between Greek food producers and foreign markets.

Greece also aims to develop a constellation of small satellites that will support telecommunications services, as well as earth observation applications in the fields of mapping, shipping, precision agriculture and spatial planning. There is a strong focus on mitigating potential environmental disasters, including flooding and fires.

As part of moves to improve the sustainable use of resources, climate resilience and environmental protection, Greece has earmarked €110 million to investments aiming at reducing flooding risks, providing water for irrigation purposes in areas facing drought during the summer and enhancing surface water management efficiency in several areas in Greece.

Meanwhile, €115 million has been proposed for the purchase of forest firefighting, prevention and response equipment, the development of prevention projects for regions and local authorities, and the support of the General Secretariat for Civil Protection volunteering organisations.

Support is also on offer to strengthen the link between research and innovation, with agriculture named as one of the key areas to focus on in this respect.

The European Commission has already disbursed €4 billion to Greece in pre-financing, equivalent to 13% of the country’s grant and loan allocation under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

POLAND

According to the Polish agricultural chambers Wielkopolska Izba Rolnicza, Poland’s national recovery and resilience plan offers up €2.3 billion of funds for agriculture and rural development, of which €1,267 million will go directly to Polish farmers and processors.

The aim of these activities will be mainly to support the process of shortening the food chain and the implementation of innovative technologies in the sector, investments especially in the field of environmental protection as well as climate, digitisation and organic farming

It also aims to support supplementing professional qualifications in connection with the implementation of breakthrough technologies in agriculture.

The project predicts a reform to improve the conditions of competitiveness and protection of producers/consumers in the agricultural sector, which aims, with the participation of national institutions, to strengthen the effectiveness of legal and institutional solutions in the field of competition protection in the agri-food chain. 

The planned adaptation measures in rural areas will be aimed, in particular, at increasing the resilience of agriculture to climate change, including the effects of drought.

€667 million will be spent on investments in sustainable water management in rural areas. The programme will mainly finance works related to the construction, reconstruction and expansion of water drainage facilities.

It is planned to support small water devices, in particular those limiting water outflow, taking into account its retention and the possibility of using water to counteract the effects of drought. It is also planned to finance investments in rural areas related to basic infrastructure, including in particular projects related to water supply and sewage treatment. 

The plan describes the complementarity with the CAP’s national strategic plan, including the strategy for the sustainable development of rural areas, agriculture and fisheries 2030. 

However, according to some agricultural stakeholders, there is not enough money and some solutions will not bring the intended results.

“The resources are insufficiently scarce. According to our proposal, Polish villages should receive roughly 40% money from Plan – this is the percentage that would correspond to the population living in rural areas”, indicates Wiktor Szmulewicz, president of the National Council of Agricultural Chambers (pol. Krajowa Rada Izb Rolniczych).

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki praised the programme, declaring that the Polish government will do “everything to allocate the great money that we allocate from the Polish state budget and negotiated in the EU to increase the efficiency of Polish agriculture even more, so that the conquest of the Polish farmer throughout Europe can last and that our achievements are greater and greater, and that Polish agriculture would dominate Europe”. (Paweł Natorski | EURACTIV.pl)

SLOVAKIA

When the Slovak ministry of finance presented the first draft of a national recovery and resilience plan in October last year, Slovak farmers were unpleasantly surprised.

The €6 billion reform document contained almost no investment or reform proposal for the agri-food sector, with the only exception of planning and implementation of land re-parcelling worth €36 million per year.

This was quite surprising given that the ministry of agriculture had shortly before presented a document in which it had requested €2.4 billion from the recovery plan for the agri-food sector.

The ministry wanted to use this money to finance water retention measures, landscaping elements such as alleys and ponds, or sustainable forest management.

The ministry of finance, which coordinated the preparation of the plan, subsequently submitted the document for public consultation, in which all farmers’ associations, environmental organisations, and municipalities urged the government to set aside some money for the agri-food sector. 

The then farming minister Ján Mičovský (OĽaNO) also publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the situation. At that time, the minister even announced that he would resign from his post if the government did not include measures for the agri-food sector in the document.

But even the minister’s ultimatum did not help in the end. In the final draft of the national recovery and resilience plan, the government failed to set aside a single euro for agriculture. Compared to the original December plan, even the provisions for landscaping were dropped.

The ministry of finance justified this decision by the fact that agriculture is not among the recommendations of the European Commission in the annual report on Slovakia. It also adds that agriculture receives billions of euros from the EU’s farming subsidies programme already.

“The priorities were identified in several months of discussions at both expert and political levels and thus reflect political consensus as well as the European Commission’s criteria,” claimed the press department of the ministry.

The decision was, however, received with fierce criticism from farmers. The largest agricultural association, the Slovak Agriculture and Food Chamber (SPPK), called the recovery plan “an insult to Slovak farmers”. 

The Chamber points out that other member states managed to allocate money for their farmers, which will consequently favour them over their competitors from Slovakia.

SPPK chairman Emil Macho blames Ján Mičovský for the failure. “Criticism is not directed at the leaders of the coalition, the government as such, but at our ministerial minister,” he said.

Ján Mičovský stepped down as minister on June 7 after his nominee in the Slovak Land Fund, Gabriela Bartošová, was charged in an alleged bribery case. He was replaced by Samuel Vlčan on the same day. (Marián Koreň | EURACTIV.sk)

HUNGARY

While the Commission and Hungary continue to negotiate on Hungary’s recovery plan, the current investment proposal focuses on water management.

In its NRRP, Hungary argues that the “D” water management component is closely linked with the CAP. With a €123 million budget, these reforms will focus on supplying water to water-scarce areas, water retention, regional water transfers, storage, protection of groundwater resources, as well as creating compensation for spatial and temporal uneven distribution of water resources.

Authorities plan to achieve this through investing in water supply systems by building new networks and infrastructure, setting up a monitoring system and implementing environmental conservation measures with the view to increasing the proportion of water bodies in good status under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Nevertheless, while the government hopes the investment plans will have a positive impact on agriculture, it emphasises the plan’s limitations.

“It has to be said, however, that the planned projects are not capable of fundamentally changing the water use patterns of Hungarian agriculture and industry, even if only because of their size, and they can only contribute to the realisation of this goal in proportion to their size,” the document reads. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)

ROMANIA

Romania had big plans for agriculture in its first version of the recovery and resilience plan. However, the projects were not considered to be “green enough” and left farmers feeling deceived, accusing the agricultural minister of incompetence after the sector only got “peanuts” in the version sent to the Commission.

Despite this, the agriculture ministry still hopes to use EU funding to finance huge irrigation and water management investments.

Of the €8 billion initially requested for agriculture, just €230 million and only a few projects remained in the final version. These included the implementation of a drainage system, a programme on agricultural education in high schools, and manure collection platforms designed together with the ministry of environment.

But the €6.5 billion initially allotted for irrigation and other water management works were left out of the final version of the national recovery and resilience plan. This was because the EU Commission considered these investments did not contribute enough to a “greener” economy.

This is despite the fact that drought is a burning problem in Romania, with last year’s crops being seriously affected by lack of rainfall, meaning irrigation infrastructure continues to be high on the agenda.

Cristian Ghinea, minister of European investments and projects who was responsible for managing the drafting of the recovery plan, said that the problem of irrigation systems proposed by the ministry of agriculture is water consumption, so they could not be included in the recovery plan, but they can still be financed from other sources, such as rural development funds.

But access to EU funding may also prove difficult because the new CAP also places an important emphasis on the sustainable management of natural resources, including water.

This means that efficient irrigation facilities and farmers who fit their lands to river basin management plans will have priority in getting funding. As it currently stands, Romania has a problem because it does not have a water cadastre, but the situation will soon be addressed, because this is one of the reforms included in the recovery plan, as minister Ghinea underlined. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

CROATIA

In its ‘Economy’ component, the Croatian recovery and resilience plan includes investments to promote the country’s circular economy in agriculture. Investments in farming infrastructure should enable productivity and competitiveness gains for farmers who are mostly concentrated in the disadvantaged eastern part of the country.

A logistics infrastructure network for the fruit and vegetable sector will be established in order to tackle the scourge of food waste, as well as strengthening the food donation chain capacity.

Likewise, a smart farming component has been added to reduce the ecological footprint of Croatian agriculture with measures such as minimised or site-specific application of pesticides or fertilisers and precision agriculture systems to mitigate potential water pollution problems.

Investments in building a passive communications infrastructure in rural areas are included in the component dedicated to improving the efficiency of public administration. This will reinforce the national smart Agriculture platform aimed at support the digital transformation of the sector.

Among the announced reforms, there will be the new act on Agriculture Land Consolidation – expected at the beginning of 2022 – aimed at creating preconditions for modern farming methods and facilitate the use of digital services in the agricultural sector. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

BULGARIA

Bulgaria has made huge changes to its recovery plan over the past two months, with the caretaker government deciding to rely on funding for innovation in agriculture. The government is setting up a fund to promote the technological and environmental transition of agriculture, which will have a budget of €275 million.

Bulgaria has a great potential for developing agriculture with high added value, but the country currently does not invest enough to achieve this goal. For several years, projects for broadband internet in rural areas have developed at a very slow pace, despite access to European funding.

Now the Bulgarian government is trying to change that. Half of the budget of the Fund for Innovation in Agriculture will be provided by the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility, while the rest will be raised with private funding and co-financing from the state.

Only registered agricultural producers will be able to apply for projects under the fund.

Bulgaria abandoned the idea of the former government of Boyko Borissov to invest nearly €420 million levs for the restoration of irrigation canals in the country. The reason for this is that for the last 20 years the state-owned company ‘Napoitelni sistemi’ (Irrigation Systems), which is responsible for the repairs has been rocked by scandals, some of them related to the destruction of the already constructed infrastructure.

“The focus is entirely on green and digital investments, which will allow farms to adapt to climate change, green production practices, more efficient use of resources,” the new plan of the Bulgarian government says.

Furthermore, Bulgaria will invest €14 million from the recovery plan to build a system for direct communication between farmers and the administration, called “digitalisation of farm-to-table processes”.

This system will help control the use of plant protection products and fertilisers by digitising farmers’ diaries. This software will also control the use of antibiotics in animals’ breeding. The Bulgarian government also wants to impose much better monitoring of the processes of the “from the farm to the table” strategy.

Bulgaria’s recovery plan will be funded by €6.4 billion from the EU. After the end of Borissov’s government mandate, the new caretaker government listened to the criticism of experts, who said the initial proposals were not ambitious enough.

The new government undertook a serious revision of the Bulgarian plan and placed a much stronger focus on innovation and green projects. (Krassen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg)

[Edited by Natasha Foote, Gerardo Fortuna, Zoran Radosavljevic]

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