Land challenges in Europe: from landgrabbing to land reform

Letter to MEPs on needed land policy reform
25 June 2013
Article

At the heart of the growing inequalities in Europe are the issues of land concentration and land grabbing. It is a critical subject and is having severe impacts on the prospects and viability of our communities.

The report Land Concentration, land grabbing and people's struggles in Europe, [1] written by the European Coordination Via Campesina and the Coalition Hands off the Land explores this issue. Based on case studies in 13 European countries, it reveals the absurdity of the current land tenure evolution in Europe. The report highlights that across Europe we are witnessing the acceleration of four key trends:

  • The concentration of land in the hands of a few big players, on top of historical ‘latifundia’ in some regions of the continent.
  • Land grabbing by the agro-industrial and mining companies.
  • The degradation of land in favor of urbanization and transport infrastructure.
  • The difficulty for young farmers and for landless farmers to get access to land for agriculture.

Across Europe these changes are being driven by agricultural policies, national and European, that benefit large agribusiness and are causing severe economic, social and cultural marginalization of small and medium scale farmers.

At the European level, the CAP - which is the vehicle for delivering the European Communities vision for agriculture – does nothing to support the development of small-scale agriculture despite clear evidence that it is the form of agriculture most beneficial for our environment and communities.

The numerous impacts are visible in the whole of Europe. It leads to the closing down of hundreds of farms each year which are replaced by highly mechanized agribusiness operating on an industrial model, resulting in a widespread reduction in rural employment.

These issues are increasing rural to urban migration and the corresponding growth of cities. All over Europe, land grabbing and industrial farming are maintaining a similar pace as human migrations and the exploitation of workers, very often farmers expelled from their lands. Thousands of people travel huge distances to work as a cheap and flexible labor force in poor conditions with low wages in European agro-industrial companies.

Land grabbing and land concentration go hand in hand with the industrialization of food production lines and the standardization of food products. European citizens have become dependent on the vagaries of large retailers.

Furthermore, these industrial farming practices pollute natural resources and are responsible for the loss of biodiversity, the destruction of ecosystems and excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, land grabbing and the concentration of land ownership lead to the concentration of control over land, water, seeds and financial resources in the hands of a few economic and political decision-makers rather than in responsible civil governance.

From agriculture to food sovereignty, from land management to the management of natural resources, from employment to building local economies, from poverty to health care, from democracy to governance; these issues affect all the Europeans.

Taking the findings of this report into account, we, citizens and civil society organizations, concerned with the cultural, social, economic and environmental future of Europe, ask for the land to be managed in the public interest. Land must never be treated as a commodity. We must defend and recover the common use of fields, forests and natural resources. Priority must be given to peasant farming and food production and must aim at food sovereignty and not just at the development of private commercial interests. Access to land must be given to those who work on it.

This is what we demand:
(1)  Stop and reverse the trend towards concentration and commodification of the land!

  • Implement redistributive land policies (land reform, land restitution, affordable rentals for land, etc) in regions marked by the concentration of ownership.
  • Recognize the importance of historical use right and community property systems.
  • Implement policies to support the transformation of industrial agribusiness into family farming / peasant farming/ food sovereignty projects, including urban agriculture.

(2)  No more land grabbing!

  • Prohibit investors and speculators (companies, banks / governments) that operate on and / or monopolize land, in Europe and elsewhere in the world.
  • Create a public database and surveillance system to monitor the transactions of the governments and the companies involved in land grabbing.

(3)  Guarantee access to land for the farmers as a basic condition to achieve food sovereignty, especially for young people and landless farmers!

  • Abolish the patriarchal system of land ownership and inheritance.
  • Promote affirmative action policies to ensure access to land for women.
  • Creation public governance frameworks or reform the existing frameworks (eg.Safer, France) in order to facilitate access to land and to other resources such as water and seeds for young and landless people.
  • Strengthen and favor the involvement of local communities in decision-making about land use.
  • Prioritize public ownership of land by long-term administrative transfer of land to workers' cooperatives or to small farmers who work directly on the farm, to avoid the negative affects of market speculation and capitalistic logic.
  • Develop legal frameworks in favor of cooperatives and joint properties that would improve the situation of women in relation to land ownership and would facilitate the establishment of young people, agricultural workers and unemployed persons from the cities in agricultural livelihoods.
  • Change the unfair installation and rental standards and adopt policies that support sustainable projects led by farmers and smallholders (eg. cancel the minimum area condition for subsidies).
  • Support concrete actions for land recovery (eg. Occupation of industrial estates, unproductive latifundia and public land in a process of privatization).
  • Prioritizing the use of land for food and not for the production of agrofuels or other commercial and energetic products, useless large infrastructures and extractive industries in Europe and across the world.
  • Encourage the adoption and the democratic implementation of the FAO Guide Lines on land governance in Europe in the framework of food sovereignty.
  • Encourage the adoption by the European states of the Human Rights of Peasants at the UN Human Rights Council.

(4)  Implement the CAP as a way to develop and improve peasant and small farming


Signatories:
European Coordination Via Campesina
Friends of the Earth Europe
FIAN Belgium
Transnational Institute
Demeter International
Corporate Europe Observatory
GRAIN
Terre de Liens, France
SolidaritéS, Switzerland
Comité pour l'annulation de la Dette du Tiers Monde (CADTM-Switzerland)
Biodynamic Land Trust, United Kingdom
InfOMG, Rumania
Tinerri Maniosi, Rumania
Agent Green, Rumania
CRIES, Rumania
Foundation for Environment and Agriculture, Bulgaria
Bulgarian Organic Products Association, Bulgaria

 

NOTES:

[1] The report is presented to the European Parliament on the 25th of June

   

Image by World Bank Photo Collection