Organic farmers call for sustainability-driven CAP payments

The EU market for produce produced to higher sustainability standards is growing, according to organic farmers. But producers are still in a minority. [Cascadian Farm/ Flickr]

The EU Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM EU) yesterday (19 January) sent a letter to EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan, calling for a “fundamentally new approach” to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

According to the organic farmers, if the EU is to meet its UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) obligations, then the sustainability of the agri-food sector should take centre stage.

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They believe that the current CAP is too focused on the competitiveness of the sector, something that has helped an export-driven strategy but which has also undermined efforts to address challenges like food security and climate change.

In a policy paper on the post-2020 CAP, organic farmers stressed that less than 30% of EU spending went to environmental measures while green investments account for almost 1.5%.

The paper pointed out a “mass exodus” of farmers due to market volatility as well as the impact of intensive industrial farming on land use and climate change.

“Forthcoming CAP reforms need to set in motion a new deal between farmers and citizens that strengthens the environmental and socio-economic performance of the agri-food sector,” the letter reads, underlining that a new model of farm payments should be established based on agro-ecological results.

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“Public money for public goods”

Organic farmers emphasised in particular that agricultural public goods (high on-farm biodiversity, clean water, stable soils, animal welfare, enduring landscapes, viability of rural areas, etc) should be recognised by markets and based on that, calling on the Commission to move to a new model of farm payments.

According to the farmers, there are a growing number of EU consumers who will pay for food produced to higher sustainability and quality standards but farmers producing this way are still in a minority.

“Fully implementing the principle of public money for public goods can start creating more solid foundations for mainstreaming high-quality food production and helping Europe start phasing out its current approach of producing ‘cheap food’ for global markets,” the organic movements noted.

One single pillar

IFOAM EU says that in order for this process to become a reality, starting from 2021 the CAP should be gradually structured under one single pillar, in which public goods payments should represent 80% of overall EU spending and supporting measures and the remaining 20% by 2034.

This single pillar should provide a “public goods payment framework, which incentivises and rewards farmers delivering a range of environmental and socio-economic services at farm level”, and it should be 100% financed by the EU.

In addition, IFOAM EU suggests the new CAP should also contain complementary supporting measures co-financed by EU member states, covering issues related to farm advice, infrastructural investments, innovation, organic farming payments and promotional activities.

Working with nature

In a recent interview with, IFOAM EU Policy Manager Eric Gall stressed that agriculture is the backbone of the SDG agenda, which will be achieved only if the whole food system is transformed.

“We need a transformation that moves towards agricultural production that works with nature, promoting the natural capacity of soils, plants and animals which makes farms more resilient,” Gall noted.

He added that if the environmental, social and public health costs of farming were better reflected in the price paid to farmers and the cost of food, then farmers and workers across the food value chain can be fairly remunerated.

“A most needed shift, as 70% of the 1 billion people currently suffering from hunger are small-scale farmers and farm workers,” he emphasised.

He added that the EU can contribute with a fundamentally new approach to the CAP that is capable of supporting sustainable development based on holistic payments for farms and on the prioritisation of the often hidden environmental and socio-economic services farmers provide.

“Changing the focus of the CAP would support farmers, whose approaches inherently work towards the socio-economic and environmental sustainability of their own farms, their regions and the citizens. In the end, this is a win for taxpayers and citizens too,” he concluded.

Hogan: Farmers are the “driving force”

Speaking yesterday (19 January) at the International Green Week in Berlin, EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan stressed that farmers should be on the frontline of the efforts to fight global warming and promote sustainability.

The Irish Commissioner noted that citizens and policymakers should accept that maintaining high standards of food quality and safety cannot be married to farmers doing more for the environment “unless we specifically incentivise farmers for doing this work”.

“Who is better placed than farmers to lead the way in improving water and soil conservation? Who is better placed than farmers to lead the way in creating truly sustainable food production systems?” Hogan asked.

  • By the end of 2017: The European Commission will publish a Communication on the future of the CAP

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