A report just published by two rural activist organisations, European Co-ordination Via Campesina and the coalition Hands off the Land, reminds us that the growing inequalities in the EU are not confined to urban areas but businesses and farming, in particular rural are also reflected in issues of rural land concentration and land-grabbing.
Based on case studies in thirteen European countries, including Ireland, Land Concentration, Land Grabbing and People’s Struggles in Europe points out that throughout Europe we are witnessing the acceleration of four significant trends: the concentration of land in the hands of a few big owners, 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 favour of urbanisation and transport infrastructure; and the difficulty for young farmers and for landless farmers in getting access to land for agriculture.
It is doubtful whether the provisions for young farmers in the present round of reforms in the common agricultural policy will have anything more than a cosmetic effect, given that agricultural policies, national and EU, benefit large agribusiness and large-farmer interests while causing the severe economic, social and cultural marginalisation of small and medium scale farmers.
The report draws attention to the re-emergence in Ireland of the United Farmers’ Association as a result of serious dissatisfaction with the role of the Irish Farmers’ Association and what it describes as its “predominantly neo-liberal and productivist leaders.”
The writers welcome the aims of the UFA, which seeks, among other things, to
“counteract the ‘Group Think’ of present establishment elites whose policies are predicated on support for the large operators, the wealthy and powerful in our society to the detriment and ultimate death of low income communities.”
Agriculture is usually portrayed as the success story of the economy, with the Government claiming that Ireland’s agricultural output can continue to grow. The report, however, warns that “recent years have exposed the fragility of the Irish agri-export model, which in spite of Ireland’s high capacity for grass-fed production, still relies on high levels of imports of concentrated feeds from overseas. Meat and dairy production generally continues to be undertaken on the richer lands of the East and South, but with cattle in feed lots as opposed to in the field. Over the winter of 2012/13, some farmers ran out of fodder for their animals, leading to the import of fodder from overseas. This unprecedented step unmasked the very tight margins under which most farmers are working. Farmers in Ireland, particularly those involved in animal rearing, depend almost entirely on direct payments to reach an average industrial wage of just over €21,000 per year. Smallholders in particular struggle to make ends meet.”