The way agricultural aid is distributed creates inequalities, French court of auditors say

On a dairy farm. On average, French livestock farmers receives half as much aid as those growing ceral.

The way agricultural aid is distributed in France is unequal and produces negative effects, the French court of auditors said in a summary judgement. The chamber is calling for changes to how aid is allocated under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), though this is currently not on the agenda. EURACTIV France reports.

The French court of auditors has gambled that writing a report that breaks a taboo and causes debate will be more likely to have real consequences. The organisation analysed how aid which is decoupled from the common agricultural policy (CAP) is distributed in France.

€7.8 billion distributed with little common sense

The bulk of the support for French farmers is allocated in the form of decoupled aid and amounts to €7.8 billion every year. This a considerable sum, representing more than half of what France – the primary beneficiary of EU funds in absolute terms – receives from the EU (€14.5 billion).

As substantial as it may be, this direct aid allocated by the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) is distributed with little common sense, according to the French court of auditors.

The smallest diversified farms with small environmental footprints receive little funding. Whereas large farms specialised in monocultures, whose impact on resources and biodiversity is maximal, are cashing in.

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Number of farmers receiving in-work support quadrupled

This is happening to such an extent that the small farms are becoming poorer, while the largest are growing richer. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of farmers receiving the revenue de solidarité active (RSA), an in-work income supplement, quadrupled. This figure reached 33,300 farmers in 2016, in other words, one in 26 farmers.

On the other hand, some farmers, mainly working in cereal and oilseed crops, receive significant revenue.

“This direct aid has also benefitted farms which were already profitable, for whom this aid has formed an income supplement. Therefore, between 2008 and 2015, €716 million has benefited farmers whose individual incomes already exceeded the median income level of French households, amounting to €1,700 per month,” the report highlighted.

These income disparities are related to a 2006 decision to allocate aid on the basis of farms’ production between 2000 and 2002, rather than their annual production. This is a situation which means that the amount of aid per hectare can vary by up to 100%.

Aid for agricultural machinery and pesticides?

Some farmers therefore receive substantial aid without really needing it, while others get very little. There are striking inequalities between livestock farming and growing major crops. On average, farmers working in livestock farming receive half as much decoupled aid as their colleagues growing wheat and corn, while using a great amount of pesticides.

“The Court has found a correlation, for major crops, between direct aid and excessive investment with regard to productivity gains (notably through machinery), as well as an increase of intermediate consumption, notably of synthetic inputs (fertilisers and pesticides), with a low marginal profitability,” the report stated.

The French court of auditors is therefore asking the ministry of sgriculture and food to thoroughly review how this aid is distributed and notably to standardise the amount of aid provided per hectare in order to avoid agricultural inequalities growing.

This is what the French government has responded to, having started reorganising the redistribution of aid since 2015. Two mechanisms – the convergence of aid and the redistribution of aid for the first hectares – are attempts to even out the amount of aid provided per hectare.

Redistribution progressing very slowly

“It’s true that France may be considered to be reorganising the distribution of aid in a very, very progressive way,” acknowledged Aurélie Trouillier, head of the “agricultural policies” department at the French Chambers of agriculture. “But the European treaty states that a sudden break shouldn’t be introduced into the payment of aid,” she added.

The French argument is that any quick removal of aid may disadvantage those farmers who have made investments or possibly taken out other loans, taking their CAP aid into account.

This situation is well-known to the agricultural sector but is the subject of a taboo both at the level of the French government, as well as in Brussels. The status quo manages the main agricultural organisations, where the farmers who come off the best through the CAP are well represented.

“The others, we small farmers, work all the time and don’t have time to run agricultural trade unions,” a farmer said.

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