Feeding the world: small farms versus animal factories

Is the Romanian government deliberately squeezing small farms?  A few weeks ago, I signed an on-line petition hosted by Care2.com which stated that Romania’s agricultural ministry was diverting funds which should have gone to small-holders, and posted it onto my Facebook page.  Admittedly I did so without taking the trouble to find out first if the claim was true, but fearful of the loss of more precious habitats and biodiversity in a country where governmental corruption is rife, I did write to Dacian Ciolos, the (Romanian-born) EU commissioner for agriculture.  Mr Ciolos has made a good impression and he seems remarkably fair and open.

Within a few days one of his cabinet, also Romanian, replied.  She explained, as I already knew, that in 2014, the Common Agricultural Policy is due for big changes some of which are supposed to favour small farms.

I’m posting her reply below (blue text) to help anyone who wants an insight into what’s going on, at least in Brussels, and reads Romanian.  I wrote to the Romanian Agriculture Minister too but he hasn’t replied.

Another person whom I’ve met in connection with Romania’s rural development programmes is the researcher, Krystyna Larkham.  She has been organising conferences in Romania for academics to discuss rural development under the title of Rural’Est. Krystyna (who I learnt had since been working as an environmental risk assessor for a mining companies in Slovakia!) contacted me because she and her former colleagues were worried that the petition ignores what is a far more complicated situation facing small farms.

First of all, you have to define ‘small farm’.  Romania has millions of small-holdings which are not considered commercially viable but which support the people who run them.  Calling them subsistence farmers implies that they are unable to support themselves in any way, which isn’t necessarily the case.  A lot of ‘subsistence’ farms produce food for the families who work on them, and in Romania the coldly bureaucratic notion of a subsistence farm is so alien to the character of a small, working family farm that it’s laughable.  Romanians use the term gospodarie, which means home, hearth, the centre of the family, a spiritual haven, a place where people grow real food rather than the processed muck that global corporations want everyone to buy, they embody self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and encompass hundreds of years of tradition and history… Just a thought: if the world had more gospodarii, and less of the so-called free market, we might have less starvation.  But I digress.

At the moment only farms which comprise 1 hectare or more of land are eligible for support.  This includes a million farms but excludes three million smaller holdings.  According to Krystyna, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because the administrative burden would be too great.  Romanian officials don’t have the capacity to deal with so many individual cases on the ground: their local offices are understaffed and often don’t have access to computers. Even the Min of Ag offices don’t have enough computers for all of their staff, so you can understand why things seem in a mess.

But from 2014 they will be eligible for more help from what’s known as Pillar 2 of the CAP whereby funds are allocated for services provided and protecting the environment (ie ‘rural development’ rather than direct income for farmers as in Pillar 1), and, if I understand this correctly, it will be given direct from the EU and not depend on the national government’s interpretation of the legislation.  Smaller farms can apply for different kinds of funding not necessarily through the CAP.

Krystyna clarified things further by saying:

“I [am]… very sympathetic to the plight of the small farmer in Romania…..I think that a clear expression of [my] position is that a lot of energy can be wasted campaigning for something which is legally, fiscally or practically impossible (for example, immediate financial support within the CAP for every small farmer in romania). Instead, it is important to keep them in mind, but to also work on alternative and parallel solutions to aid their situation, for example advising against current legislation reforms which will make it (even) harder, if not illegal, to sell in markets and on the side of the road, and increasing uptake of membership in agricultural associations.”

There is still a lot of confusion worldwide as to what is fair: the World Trade Organisation has its own take and this effects the CAP, because the EU has to negotiate what it pays farmers with the WTO.

I admit to being still at sea since there are so many strands to these issues but having met Krystyna and her colleagues, I feel a bit happier about what some CAP policy-makers – or maybe just the think tanks, but it’s a start – are trying to do for Romania’s gospodarii.  This still leaves the question of the environmental merits of small, mixed, extended farms whose animals graze mountainous areas: do they help preserve biodiversity or not?

Sprijin pentru micii fermieri in cadrul primului pilon al PAC

Până la data de 15 octombrie 2014 orice agricultor beneficiar de plăţi directe pentru anul 2014 poate decide ca din anul respectiv să participe la Schema pentru Micii Fermieri  .
Prin această schemă, un stat membru va putea face o plată fixă către micul producător cuprinsă între 500 și 1000 de Euro/an indiferent de mărime fermei lui, necondiţionată de aplicarea practicilor agricole durabile (greening) şi cu proceduri mult simplificate.
Suma exactă va fi decisă de fiecare Stat membru, fie în funcţie de plata medie pe beneficiar, fie în funcţie de plata medie pe hectar, la o ferma de 3 ha.
Micii producători vor putea beneficia şi de serviciile de consultanţă şi de sprijin pentru dezvoltare economică şi restructurare finanţate în cadrul programului de dezvoltare rurală
Această schemă este obligatorie pentru statele membre şi facultativă pentru agricultori.
Aceasta schemă va fi însoţită în programele de dezvoltare rurală de o schemă de restructurare agricolă care încurajează ieşirea micilor agricultori prin transferul permanent al terenurilor catre alţi fermieri, printr-o plată egala cu 120% din plata pe care micul fermier ar fi primit-o în cadrul schemei pentru mici fermieri. Cele doua scheme formeaza un dispozitiv comun simplificare-restructurare.
In ceea ce priveste pilonul II – dezvoltare rurala , si aici avem o serie de masuri fie strict menite pentru micii fermieri, fie menite pentru toti fermierii, dar avantajoase si pentru micii fermieri. De exemplu:
se vor finanta activitati de inovare la nivel de ferma si se introduce un parteneriat european de inovare menit sa faciliteze colaborarea dintre fermieri, NGOs, institute de cercetare si autoritati
se introduce o masura de cooperare menita sa stimuleze asocierea producatorilor pentru a fi mai puternici pe lantul alimentar
se consolideaza sistemul de consiliere agricola
micii fermieri vor avea posibilitatea unor finanţări de până la 15.000 Euro/ferma mică pentru pornirea unei afaceri .
pentru zonele defavorizate natural se propune o noua clasificare a acestor zone pe baza a 8 criterii bio-fizice. Statele membre au libertatea de a defini până la 10% din terenul agricol ca zonă cu dificultăţi specifice, pentru menţinerea sau îmbunătăţirea protecţiei mediului înconjurător
pentru zonele montane, precum şi pentru cele situate la peste 62º N sprijinul financiar poate creşte până la 300 Euro/ha (de la 250 Euro/ha)
se introduc finantari pentru dezvoltarea circuitelor scurte
de asemenea, statele membre pot decide sa creeze sub-programe de dezvoltare in domeniile considerate importante pentru zonele rurale – circuitele scurte de exemplu fiind un domeniu posibil de avut in vedere
Gasiti insa mai multe informatii cu privire la elementele reformei PAC la urmatorul link:

Este adevarat ca si in afara PAC sunt actiuni posibile. Pe 20 aprilie Dl Comisar Ciolos a organizat impreuna cu Dl Comisar Dalli (responsabil pentru sanatate si protectia consumatorilor) o conferinta privind agricultura locala si dezvoltarea circitelor scurte. In acest context s-a adresat si problematica marketingului produselor provenind din circuite scurte si precum si necesitatea simplificarii regulilor de igiena pentru producatorii mici. Comisia Europeana lucreaza in acest moment la aceste subiecte.

To give some additional perspective, I’m quoting from a PhD thesis by a British post-graduate student of EU agricultural policies:

“There remains support amongst Romanian politicians for the CAP as a means of ensuring the competitiveness of European agriculture but as [Dacian] Ciolos, when Romanian Minister of Agriculture, put it in a guest editorial, the EU has to make a fundamental choice for the future of the food, landscape and quality of life within its whole territory. To quote:
‘Farmers should not be considered only as running food production enterprises. They act within a living environment that offers not only food and raw materials but an enriched public life. In other words European agriculture has to be multifunctional: competitive not only for the market but also for citizens, as an economic activity that uses and manages renewable resources of public interest’. ”

From ‘A Competitive European Agriculture Designed for the Citizens – Romania’s perspective’ 2008, (journal compilation for the Agricultural Economics Society and the European Association of Agricultural Economists) and quoted in Michael Pearson, The Discordant Accord, an examination of the legal and political structure of the European Union and its compatibility with the cultures of its diverse member states, doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Kent, Canterbury, 2010.)




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