Land grabbing in Europe/family farming

21 Jan 2015
Adopted References: NAT/632 EESC-2014-00926-00-00-ac-tra Own-initiative Rapporteur: Mr Kaul NURM (Various interests - GR III / Estonia) Plenary Session: 504 - 20 Jan 2015 - 21 Jan 2015 (Summary Plenary Session)
Opinion on Land grabbing – a wake-up call for Europe and an imminent threat to family farming (own-initiative opinion)

EESC opinion: Land grabbing in Europe/family farming

Key points

  • Some EU policy areas have direct or indirect effects on land grabbing in the EU and worldwide. These include the bioeconomy, trade and agricultural policy. A prime example is the EU requirement to increase the share of biofuels and permitting of duty-free and quota-free sugar imports, which are behind certain land grabbing projects in Asia and Africa.
  • According to data from various sources, in Romania up to 10% of agricultural land is now in the hands of investors from third countries and a further 20-30% is controlled by investors from the EU. In Hungary one million hectares of land was acquired in secret deals using capital primarily from EU Member States. Although foreigners will not be allowed to buy land in Poland until May 2016, it is well known that 200 000 hectares have already been acquired by foreign investors, mainly from EU countries.
  • To protect family farms so that small-scale farming can offer a viable alternative to industrialised agriculture and to the land grabbing that this entails, active measures must be taken to protect family farms, including aid measures for producer organisations and measures to combat unfair trading practices. Policy measures at EU and at national level can help to make family farming more sustainable and more resilient.
  • The EESC calls on all EU Member States to implement the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance on Tenure (VGGT) and to report to the European Commission and the FAO on the use and application of the VGGT in their land governance policies.
  • The EESC calls on the European Parliament and the Council to discuss whether the free movement of capital in respect of the alienation and acquisition of agricultural land and agribusinesses should be guaranteed, particularly in relation to third countries, but also within the EU.

Background

Growing global demand for food and the financial investors' interest in the agricultural sector have led to large-scale acquisitions, also known as "land grabbing", of farming land all over the world. The pursuit of agricultural land is not only taking place in developing countries, but also in Europe and the EU, especially in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. In Romania, approximately 800 000 hectares farmland, 6% of total arable land, belongs to foreign investors. This process involves the large-scale purchase or leasing of agricultural land by companies, governments and private individuals.

The aim of the opinion is to take stock of the land grabbing phenomenon in the EU, and to discuss its extent and various causes. The document should explain the implications of this process for the environment, jobs, the local population, rural life and food security. It focuses on large-scale acquisitions of agricultural land (including the associated bodies of water), which should be seen as a natural resource.

Land ownership is increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of a few landowners and foreign capital in particular. This worrying trend changes the nature of a multifunctional European agriculture. The widespread pursuit of agricultural land has caused environmental problems, with much of this land being used for monocultures. At the same time, there is a detrimental effect on rural life, with jobs disappearing in the regions affected.

The interests of family farming will be well reflected in the opinion, since family farms – predominantly small-scale farms - play a crucial role in the European agriculture and land grabbing considerably reduces their survival and growth potential. Family farming does not only play an economic role in the EU farming landscape, but it also contributes to providing food security, managing natural resources and achieving a more balanced territorial development.

As 2014 has been designated as the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) by the UN, the opinion will also contribute to the debate in this context.