Wages and land ownership block young Slovaks’ return to farming

This article is part of our special report Rural development in the reformed CAP.

A number of factors ranging from low salaries to difficulties in acquiring land have prevented young Slovaks from access to rural areas. EURACTIV Slovakia reports.

Slovakia’s ageing population in rural areas has become a serious issue. The agreed measures have not managed so far to achieve a generational renewal in the sector.

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Ensuring the long-term viability of the farming sector is a key challenge for Central and Eastern European countries. The EURACTIV network looks at how EU money is being spent in five key countries — Greece, Romania, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

On an EU level, young farmers aged up to 35 accounted for 6%. Slovakia has a slightly higher number (7.1%) but with national policies at an early stage, this number could be purely coincidental.

Domestic production has to find its way to the customers

Speaking with EURACTIV.sk, Daniel Lešinský, chairman of the Centre for Sustainable Alternatives (CEPTA), said that agriculture should be considered as a strategic area. He stressed that the first major obstacle to motivating young people to start farming was the level of wages. In 2013, the average national wage and the average wage in agriculture were €828 and €630 respectively.

Lešinský noted that in order to secure a viable and resilient agriculture, the promotion of domestic food production needed to be strengthened. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development says the share of the domestic food on store is up to 62.4 %, estimation CEPTA does not share, saying it is approximately 45%.

Other agricultural organisations agree with CEPTA. According to the Slovak Agricultural and Food Chamber’s latest survey the share of Slovakian products decreased less than 40%.

The land ownership obstacle

Salaries do not seem to be encouraging; the retail chains are not raising their demand for domestic products and despite some effort from the government, young farmers find it difficult to acquire their own land.

Three weeks ago, Eurostat published its annual statistical book on agriculture. Unlike across the EU, where farming is traditionally a family activity, Slovakia is one of the few EU countries with predominant non-family labour in agriculture (72.4 %).

According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, 76.5% of the labour input in agriculture comes from a holder or family members.

“People are willing to return to rural areas, they want to live this particular way, however, we are still experiencing a huge problem when it comes to land ownership”, Zuzana Homolová, president of Ekotrend Slovakia and a lifelong farmer, said.

At the Innovating the traditional: Reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Slovakia workshop recently organised by EURACTIV Slovakia, she cited several laws impeding the launch of small and medium agricultural enterprises.

The legislative and economic environment for family farms needs further fine-tuning, Daniel Lešinský noted. He believes that some improvements could be made by establishing a support system of lifelong learning and raising the age of young farmers up to 45 years.

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