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A new land policy for Europe

The narrative of a massive return of young people to the countryside and to tillage could only be a fairy tale. The phantom generations of new farmers are much more likely a blunder than a beautiful rhetoric that looks only on the surface and does not analyze the real situation in detail.

This is what the Frustrated Youth report of the Terra association highlights! which brings out a rather alarming picture: our country is proving quite hostile to generational turnover in the primary sector. Therefore, unless you already have a small amount of capital to invest or a family business, it is almost impossible for a young man, amidst bureaucratic obstacles and insufficient funds, to devote himself to peasant life with an economic and productive project.

Let’s consider that in 2020, the heads of companies under 40 represent only 9.3% of the total, a decrease compared to ten years earlier when the percentage stood at 11.5% in 2010: aspiring farmers are very few and they tend to become less and less.

Although the local situation is slightly more rosy (thanks to the tradition of small family farming closely linked to the territory) compared to other countries, Italy is unable to build a solid strategy oriented towards development and sustainability.
In Italy, the Mediterranean family model is disappearing in favor of a model managed by financial groups: a trend that causes an evident distortion in the rights of workers and in the quality of products and a disintegration of the economic fabric of small rural centres. The beautiful country seems to turn towards the example of Spain with its tomato and red fruit greenhouses, managed by a few banking and speculative groups.

However, the picture just described is part of a wider phenomenon that affects the whole continent. The European branch of Via Campesina, the NGO that protects sustainable agriculture based on the family model, denounces a situation in which ever larger land is being concentrated in the hands of new landowners, i.e. large farms, banks, but also politicians and insurance company.

Cultivable land is visibly reduced, above all due to an urban development that is now unsustainable and harmful from a hydrogeological point of view: a large portion of the few cultivable lands (to be precise, 157 million hectares of land, equal to 38 % of land in the European Union) is in the hands of just 9.1 million farms. The trend is that of a reduction in the number of companies (in 2003 they were 15 million), which in the meantime, however, are getting bigger and bigger. Few subjects therefore, totally disconnected from the territory, and which often have other purposes than the production of food.

The risks associated with this system are easily understood and searchable in the capitalist model applied to agriculture: first of all, an economic danger with all the distortions that the schemes of multinationals bring with them; then the possibility of losing the quality of food must be considered, with an overproduction of the trendiest foods on the market and the abandonment of unprofitable crops; finally, the environmental stress given by the need of these landowners to make the most of the soil and extend their territories by cutting down woods and forests.

Via Campesina finds the reasons for the monopoly of landowners in the Common Agricultural Policy itself (PAC), which grants funds and aid based on the size of the territories, prompting farmers to expand or give up. A policy that has caused many distortions, such as the increase in land prices, the reduction of production in favor of the community, a slowed or absent generational turnover, the acceleration of environmental degradation.

To recover from this situation and given that at the moment individual governments decide on the conditions of agricultural land, the NGO proposes the creation of a European land policy framework, both to increase the number of farmers with small lands, and to plan the productive autonomy of states. To curb landownership, fighting speculation and encouraging the birth of a new generation of young farmers, Via Campesina suggests prohibiting the acquisition of agricultural land over 500 hectares and redistributing the surpluses through public land banks. This provision should also be accompanied by the census of uncultivated state lands which could be assigned to young farmers and which would prove to be an excellent buffer in the event of an agri-food crisis.