Agriculture Atlas: the changes needed in agricultural policy, in simple terms


The European agricultural policy requires environmental and social sustainability, and broad public debate. Such a change is only possible if EU funds mainly support farms – small and medium-sized ones in particular – that care about the environment, produce healthy food and sustain quality jobs.

On 10 June 2019, in the Central Agricultural Library in Warsaw, there was the presentation of the Polish edition of the Agriculture Atlas, a publication of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Warsaw that was developed in close cooperation with the Institute for Sustainable Development.

Agriculture Atlas. Facts and figures on EU farming policy.

The Atlas presents benefits that a well-drafted reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) would bring to rural areas, environment quality and society at large, and threats posed by a lack of changes in agricultural policy. The Polish edition of the Agriculture Atlas consists of two complementary parts: 15 chapters presenting agricultural issues from a broader European perspective and four chapters regarding the situation in Poland. The Atlas is a result of cooperation between experts from various European countries, an approach aimed at strengthening social movements and citizen actions calling for changes in agricultural policy and their arguments in favour of sustainable, ecological and socially sensitive development in agriculture.

The publication (in Polish) can be downloaded here.
English version of the Agriculture Atlas can be downloaded here

The content of the Agriculture Atlas was presented by Dr hab. Zbigniew Karaczun (Warsaw University of Life Sciences), the author of Polish chapters, who cooperates with the Institute for Sustainable Development.

The following panellists were invited to take part in a discussion on the developments in the CAP and its influence on the situation of agriculture in Poland:

Jan-Krzysztof Ardanowski, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development;
Jarosław Sachajko, Chair of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the Sejm;
Czesław Siekierski, MEP and Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development;
Edyta Jaroszewska-Nowak, farmer and Ekoland Association activist.

The debate was moderated by Katarzyna Karpa-Świderek, WWF spokeswoman.

Common Agricultural Policy is the biggest part of the EU budget and, despite numerous reforms, does not respond to current needs and challenges.

The system it promotes does not sufficiently address vital social aims such as protection of water quality, biodiversity, animal welfare, sustainability of ecosystems, social stability of rural areas, and the principle of fair trade in Europe and globally. What comes under harsh criticism is the fact that large industrialised agricultural holdings are being supported while small and medium-sized farms run by people who care about land and tradition remain under-funded. Dr Zbigniew Karaczun.

Subsidies favour large farms

According to the authors of the Agriculture Atlas, direct subsidies under the CAP are mostly to blame. The subsidies are linked to farm size, which brings huge benefits to industrialised agricultural producers. Twenty percent of EU farmers get as much as 82 percent of the subsidies. In Poland, 74 percent of the funds go to the largest 20 percent of farms. The remaining 80 percent of Polish farmers receive slightly over one quarter of the sum paid.

In Poland, it is not easy to assess the CAP. On the one hand, EU payments have improved the quality of life of millions of people in rural areas who live off agriculture. Larger farms have been modernised, and environmental and livestock regulations have been implemented. On the other hand, after 25 years of transformations, one farm in three has disappeared and people are moving away from the countryside. Young people are leaving, and farmers complain that there are no successors. Land ownership concentration is increasing: over 31 percent of all agricultural areas in Poland are currently in the hands of the 1.8 percent largest farms.

Similar processes are taking place all over the EU. In only 10 years after 2003, over one third of farmers in the EU gave up farming. In the period 1990–2013, the number of farms of over 100 hectares doubled in some countries in Western Europe; in others it increased by as much as a factor of five. Land is treated as an investment, and is now more visibly concentrated than is overall wealth. Livestock farms resemble factories, with hundreds of thousands of cows, pigs or chickens crammed into a small area in wretched conditions.  

The current system leads to detrimental social and environmental consequences.

Throughout the EU, biodiversity in rural areas is decreasing at an alarming rate. The population of farmland birds has declined by more than a half since the 1980s, and there are over one third fewer grassland butterflies than in the 1990s. In Poland, the number of farmland birds has decreased by over 20% since 2000. There are also concerns about the condition of waters, which is constantly deteriorating due to the growing use of fertilisers. In Poland, it increased by 30% within 13 years of the country joining the EU. At the same time, the use of chemical plant protection products has increased as much as fivefold within less than 30 years, says Dr Andrzej Kassenberg, expert of the Institute for Sustainable Development.

Citizens demand sustainable agricultural policy

A new CAP must address those challenges, which is why Member States need to find new solutions taking into account the changing situation, current needs and diverse interests. European Union citizens expect such changes, stressed Irene Hahn-Fuhr, director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Warsaw.

In numerous countries, including Poland, movements and new networks of organisations are being established, demanding a sustainable system both in a broad global context and in relation to local communities, environment and food quality. Informal groups and agricultural and consumer organisations partner with organisations committed to ecology and social and global justice. This is also happening in Poland, where the Żywa Ziemia Coalition was established, calling for changes in agricultural policy. The Agriculture Atlas itself is also a result of cooperation between numerous experts from various European countries. It is aimed at strengthening those social movements and citizen actions and their arguments in favour of sustainable, ecological and socially sensitive development in agriculture.

What needs to be changed is above all the system of subsidies, which should encourage farmers to protect water, soil and air quality, to reduce emissions and to care about animal welfare, the authors of the Agriculture Atlas claim. Subsidies for famers who do not meet those requirements should be reduced more than has been the case. The CAP should also give more support than before to organic farms and make sure that agriculture is an attractive workplace for young people throughout Europe. Those changes are necessary if the common agricultural policy is to gain broader acceptance in society in the long term.

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