The EU is due to introduce sweeping agricultural subsidy reforms this week in an attempt to halt the decline of small farms and protect them from the intensification of agriculture fostered by decades of previous policies.
Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture, said: “My intention is to stop this process of disappearing small farms. In the past, the European food industry was based on small farms, and it should be so in the future as well. “
Guardian analysis shows the number of poultry and livestock farms in the EU, excluding Croatia, fell from 3.4 million between 2005 and 2016, to 5.6 million in the last year for which full data is available. While the number of poultry and livestock has increased over the period, the number of livestock farms has declined sharply, showing that there has been a considerable intensification of agriculture and small farms have been lost. The total number of all types of farms in the EU fell over the same period from 14.5 million to 10.3 million.
This intensification, with more livestock herded into a smaller number of farms, many of which were large-scale factory-type facilities, accelerated with the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which dominates the European agriculture since its introduction in 1962. Larger farmers benefit most from the subsidy system: around 80% of direct payment subsidies of 40 billion euros (£ 34 billion) go to just 20% of farmers.
Wojciechowski admitted that previous versions of the CAP produced vast upheavals. “The reason we lost 4 million farms in the EU was a mistake in the CAP. The support was too much [geared] to industrial agriculture and not enough to small and medium-sized farms, ”he said.
The CAP reforms to be proposed by the EU this week will include measures to encourage farmers to leave more room for wildlife, adopt organic standards for livestock, use less chemical fertilizers and pesticides and maintain healthy soils.
Wojciechowski told The Guardian: “Protecting small and medium-sized farms is a priority. It is not true that we need bigger and bigger farms for food security. Small farms can ensure food security for EU citizens. “
He said that small and medium-sized farms could provide more than just food, as well as environmental and health benefits: “EU lawmakers, parliament and council agree that we we need to better protect our small and medium-sized farms – this is very important for food. safety, and better for the environment, climate change and biodiversity. “
European consumers would also feel the benefits, he said. “Exports are important, but we need to pay more attention to our own markets – high quality products from European farms to European markets. This is a great opportunity for European agriculture, ”he said.
Animal welfare would also improve, he said, with more emphasis on short supply chains, which would reduce long journeys across Europe for some live animals.
He added, “Our intention is to increase organic food by 8% to 25% over the next decade, for example. This will be particularly useful for small farms. “
These reforms may end some of the bleeding from small farms in the EU, but a return to small farms across the bloc seems increasingly unlikely. Analysis of the Guardian’s data provides insight into what has been more than an economic transformation among small farms. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, more than a third of breeding and poultry farms have disappeared since 2005. Almost 120,000 poultry farms were lost in France between 2005 and 2016, and nearly 36,000 in Germany.
The impact of the CAP can be clearly seen in the accelerating decline of small farms in the new EU states. Among the long-standing EU member states, the decline in the number of small farms has continued for decades. But farmers in Eastern Europe have seen even more upheaval since 2004, when many joined in: since 2005 Bulgaria has lost 72% of its livestock and poultry farms, Hungary 48%, Poland 54% and Slovakia 72%.
In the UK, the decline over the 12-year period from 2005 to 2016 was 25%, with 45,500 livestock and poultry farms lost between 2005 and 2016. The loss was over 110,000 over 319,000 total farms in 1990.
The CAP, forged in the aftermath of the Second World War with the intention of promoting food self-sufficiency in Europe, has rewarded increasingly intensive and industrialized agricultural methods. Farmers were encouraged to produce more food at all costs, using more chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and bringing livestock from small herds and herds from the fields to large industrial farms.
Food production has increased, but the environment has suffered. The number of birds on farmland in the EU has halved in three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Insect populations have also fallen: Numbers in Germany have fallen by three-quarters in the past 25 years, according to a study of protected areas, and the number of butterflies on cultivated land in England has declined by 58% between 2000 and 2009. Only a quarter of species in the EU have a good conservation status, and 80% of key habitats are in poor or poor condition, according to the European Environmental Watchdog.
Attempts over the past two decades to encourage nature-friendly farming methods, such as leaving hedges intact and keeping field margins for wildflowers and wildlife, have had little impact, activists say.
Rural culture has also been transformed, with people flocking to cities, leaving rural areas to the rich second, farms abandoned in less productive areas and swallowed up by huge agribusinesses in others.
“Niche producers with sustainable farming practices survive by chance selling their products to restaurants or small shops, or they sell their animals live. They are cut off from the dominant market, ”said Fabio Ciconte, director of the environmental organization Terra.
Campaigners have warned that the CAP deal to be announced this week is likely to be a ‘greenwash’ rather than a real transformation of EU agricultural policy into one that favors small farmers and environment.
Célia Nyssens, NGO Policy Officer at the European Environment Bureau, said: “EU agricultural policy is a heavy burden on public spending that could transform agriculture towards a sustainable future and reverse the trend to the catastrophic loss of nature. Sadly, it looks like this week’s deal will continue to drive the tractor in the wrong direction. The majority of funds will continue to flow to the larger and more polluting farms, with hardly any green conditions attached. In this crucial decade for the climate and biodiversity, the lack of ambition of the new agricultural policy is downright disastrous.
Data research for this coin by Kunal Solanky
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