The Farmers Speak Up: Slow Food farmers survey and CAP policy recommendations

As Slow Food’s journey on the Roadmap to CAP continues, we shine a spotlight on the small-scale farmers who form part of our network to understand the impact of current policies on their work and see what lessons can be learned for the future of food and how these can inform EU policy-makers.

In 2017, Slow Food and partner organizations launched a survey aimed at 10,000 small-scale farmers and food artisans from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, and Sweden, to learn about what policy measures most support or hinder their work. The results of the survey and policy recommendations shed light on the reality of these farmers, who are often neglected and not taken in due consideration in political debates. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has a huge impact on all farmers, from industrial to small-scale. Slow Food believes the new CAP reform, due early June, should pay much more attention to the role played by small-scale farmers in creating a sustainable food system.

Recognizing the added value of small-scale farmers. The difference between large-scale farming operations and small-scale farmers is particularly evident from survey data which showed that 3 out of 4 respondents supplement their farming revenues with additional activities, such as farm shops, educational and holiday farms. These results indicate that the work in the field alone does not adequately support the livelihood of small-scale farmers. Half of the survey respondents stated that they receive direct CAP subsidies, but the funds from the Rural Development Plans are less effective: only 28% access this kind of support. Among the reasons cited by farmers for not applying for subsidies are the lengthy and complicated bureaucratic procedures or the inability to meet the eligibility criteria. However, many farmers argued that they would not need subsidies if they gained enough from their agricultural activity in the first place, “I don’t want to make every European citizen pay to allow me to exist”, commented one respondent. It is clear producers would rather their income result from the sale of their products, rather than production subsidies, but low production prices are a barrier to achieving this.

farm-europe-agriculture-tractor-field While bureaucracy may be a hindrance to applying for subsidies, the farmers were clear that they are not asking institutions for less rules and controls, just that these need to be commensurate to the size and the reality of their businesses. Their specificity, the skills they use and the added value they bring, need to be recognized and understood.

“We would like a government that takes the cultural value of the work we do and the landscape we safeguard into consideration, and that does not consider us to be the same as big, industrial businesses”, said one Italian farmer.

The CAP must accommodate and reward those who work to improve our food and farming system and penalize those who harm it.

The new CAP proposal: public money for public goods?

A recently leaked draft of the CAP legislative proposal has given us a glimpse into the future of European agriculture. The proposal itself still fails to recognize the specificity of small-scale producers and the delivery model presented in the proposal is very unsteady and does not appear to have the necessary foundations to serve as a transition policy towards food systems which are environmentally, economically and socio-culturally sustainable

Small-scale farmers: in or out?

Since subsidies depend on owning land, the leaked proposal suggests that member states shall not grant payments to farmers whose eligible area of the holding is less than a threshold which will be set by member states. In practice, small scale farmers– whose definition will be established by member states themselves – can receive subsidies only through derogation, so the support they receive will effectively be left to the goodwill of member states. To farmers, this lack of certainty in the CAP can only be damaging, given how important it is for them to be able to plan their work.

Lacking direction and clarity

As it stands, the leaked CAP proposal leaves too much room for loopholes and lacks clarity on the measures in place to achieve an environmentally sustainable system or who will be responsible for it. Member States are given too much room to pick and choose the measures they please and no penalty system is foreseen for member states who do not meet the specific objectives. While the CAP has 9 specific objectives (some are environmental and climate change related, while others are socio-economic) it is not obligatory for member states to support any of these, meaning that in practice they can just pick and choose what they want, without accountability. For instance, if the EU really intends to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to preserve nature, how can this proposal ignore the need to reduce intensive livestock production and consumption of animal products to achieve these objectives?

According to the new CAP proposal, member states are tasked with, among other things, the assessment of needs, intervention strategies, description of elements, description of direct payments, financial plans, description of governance and coordination structures. The previous CAP saw much of these tasks related to the Rural Development Funds being given to national/regional authorities, while the new proposal sees member states playing a much bigger role also in relation to the direct payments interventions. However, it is unrealistic to put all this weight on member states. By delegating much of the responsibility for the definition of the criteria, monitoring and implementation of the CAP to member states, the proposal sets itself up for failure. The existing evidence shows that many EU regions and countries to date have spent only a minimal percentage of Rural Development Funds allocated for their area, due to the delays in defining the rural development programs and in setting up efficient delivery systems, thus hampering local development. Delegating so much of the decision-making process to member states, with their own sets of bureaucratic delays and long approval processes, is doomed to fail without adequate preparation, which will certainly be lacking considering the vagueness of the proposal and the tight timeline to approve and implement it.

Failing to see the bigger picture

While the Commission’s Communication on the Future of Food and Farming, published in late 2017, partially alluded to the link between food and agriculture, the current proposal completely lacks any real consideration of the food system. Once again, the CAP remains fully focused on production, without considering the food system as a whole -a factor which is crucial to ensure a thriving and sustainable agricultural system. Trying to change the agricultural system without taking the food system into account, is a strategy that cannot work. For instance, while rural development schemes support the viability of small-scale farms, the EU’s food safety policies impose a heavy burden on smaller farms.

While the Commission’s Communication on Food and Farming included acknowledgements to issues such as food waste and losses, human and animal health issues such as AMR (anti-microbial resistance) and healthier nutrition, the current legislative draft either includes no mention of these (e.g. food losses) or has relegated them to vague options. For instance, one of the specific objectives concerns “addressing societal expectation on food and health” for member states, but this gives no indication or direction as to what those expectations are. As it stands, the CAP is a sectorial and superficial intervention on something that has huge ramifications across the board.

Failing to step up to the plate

The new CAP proposal includes voluntary schemes for the climate and environment. However, if improving the environment really were a prime concern to the Commission, it would be factored into the policies that will guide EU agriculture in the coming years through compulsory measures. Farming in a way that is environmentally sound should be the norm and not treated as an additional cost or economic burden to farmers. Attention to the environment is a proven added value and adds to the competitiveness of farmers and increases their resilience. Furthermore, despite increasing evidence that agroecology is the most effective form of sustainable farming, there is no willingness to promote it. “Agro-ecological production systems” are just considered a topic for discussion within the European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’.

Slow Food believes the CAP reform should play a fundamental role as a transition policy towards food systems which are environmentally, economically and socio-culturally sustainable. To achieve this, the role of small-scale farmers should be recognized and supported, public money must be spent only for public goods and support schemes should prioritize quality over quantity. Read the results of Slow Food’s survey and full CAP policy recommendations here.

Our journey on the Roadmap to CAP continues in the lead up to the official publication of the CAP proposal: watch this space as we put the spotlight on our vision for a holistic common food and farming policy!