Combating land concentration in Europe

4th FLT thematic discussion on the European region

February 23 Webinar

List of speakers :

  • Eliaz Moreau - Land Policy Coordinator - ECVC, France : Proposal for a European ECVC Directive
  • Robert Levesque - President of AGTER, France: A law to control the market for shares in agricultural production units
  • Ana-Maria Gatejel - Eco Ruralis, Romania: Associations for the management of common goods in Romania
  • Conchi Mogo - Sindicato Labrego Galego, Spain: Farming parks for peasant agriculture in Spain

Full recording below in French, English, English with Portuguese and Spanish subtitles:

French recording
Recording in English

The webinar is available in English below with Portuguese subtitles:

Recording in Spanish

Introductory note for the debate proposed by AGTER, Confédération paysanne, ECVC and CERAI

Among the important findings, we feel we can highlight and discuss the following developments:

  • The marginalization of peasant agriculture, which also affects Europe: concentration of land and the advance of capitalist agriculture (with salaries + service providers)
    More than the origin of capital, it is the monopolization of land and, in all cases, of agricultural (agri-food?) added value, in the service of maximizing the rate of return on capital, which is at issue (and not the maximization of wealth (VA added value) and of jobs generated by Ha) 

If the discussion driven by CONTAG is focused onextranjerisação, it is because a bill is under discussion in the Brazilian parliament to open up access to land for foreigners from the control (up to 25% per municipal territory) (PL 2.963/2019). It is therefore necessary to note the broader nature of the problem.

The concentration of land rights (rent and ownership) is a major dimension of this marginalization/eviction of peasants. 

  • This concentration is encouraged by certain public policies. The legal frameworks and European public aid to agriculture have encouraged and continue to encourage the expansion of production units, synonymous with the disappearance of production units and farmers. (figures for the last 50 years). The fact that European subsidies are distributed per hectare, without a ceiling, and untied from the work, favors the accumulation of land by large companies and financial funds and increases the price of land
  • Peasant agriculture is also under threat from the financialization of biodiversity and climate change. Carbon credit mechanisms are increasingly captured by large investors who buy up land to benefit from reforestation or fallow land (for example, in Wales, London investment funds are already buying up certain farms at auction: they raze them to plant trees and collect carbon credits, destroying the entire local social and economic fabric in the process). Compensation mechanisms for biodiversity loss (buying back land to be ecologically "restored" in exchange for the destruction of other ecosystems) are increasingly being put forward in international negotiations for biodiversity, and integrated into national legislation. The banking sector is seizing on these mechanisms by presenting them as sustainable savings products - a Davos report estimates that climate and biodiversity finance represents "10,000 billion business opportunities per year". If these markets become widespread, the social and geopolitical consequences could be colossal, with increased competition for land use.  
  • Land ownership is therefore not the only issue: there is a diversity of forms of control over land through a diversity of land use rights and other means of controlling the choices of exploitation, as well as a diversity of access to these rights and other means. In addition, there is the question of the points at which the value-added chain is punctured.
    The analysis highlights the very diverse combinations that the terms "right of use", "possession", "ownership", "control" and "exploitation" can cover. 
  • The maintenance and control of common property, which continues to exist in several European countries, is one way to defend peasant agriculture and to fight against the privatization of land and its concentration
  • (as an extension of the idea of 'loss of rights' in the previous point) Should we deplore a loss of national sovereignty? The "loss of sovereignty" can be seen under another angle: that of the loss of sovereignty citizen on the choices of use of the territory's resources. The sovereign Nation-State acts as a relay for capitalist interests by arranging regulations in favor of the freest circulation of capital and the monopolization of the wealth derived from the land on which it is employed; the solutions to globalized capital must be built at least in part at a supranational level. This requires a partial abandonment of national sovereignty in order to establish the necessary common rules (worthy of the name, with recourse against violations and sanctions).
  • Financialized European agriculture and European financial capital have impacts outside Europe

The import (inputs) and export channels of capitalist agriculture cause social and ecological damage in other countries (e.g. deforestation linked to the extension of soya surfaces in Latin America for the production of "oil cakes" necessary for intensive breeding; production of synthetic fertilizers; export of powdered milk or low-cut poultry destroying local productive capacities, etc.).

Numerous examples can be given of European capital involved in predatory farming of natural resources in Latin America, Africa... often with the support of public financing or guarantees granted in the name of development aid (one example among many others: the human rights violations and social and environmental damage by the Feronia company in the DRC supported by the main European public financial institutions for development aid)

  • All these aspects of the European situation can also be illustrated outside the European Union. One of the cases worthy of attention: Ukraine before and during the Russian invasion:

When the large collective units were dismantled, the land capital was distributed in plots of about 4 ha to the former employees of the sovkhozes and kolkhozes (which were 5-6,000 hectares). The former leaders of the Soviet agricultural structures were able to create farms of about 1500-2000 ha. At the end of the 90s, many of them went bankrupt. New investors arrived, oriented towards large-scale farming, without livestock, highly equipped with little manpower. This led to even more concentration (without ownership) of land: today there are 6 agroholdings of more than 100,000 ha. The largest, owned by a Ukrainian oligarch (90%) and 10% by foreign capital, manages 600,000 hectares. The vegetable gardens of the former workers of the collective units, and a part of the agricultural plots that they use in direct tenancy or in renting, ensure the production of the majority of the food of the Ukrainian population with levels of added value per Ha very superior to those of the large units with employees. 

The focus of the debate on land ownership here and not on the social organization of production is problematic. The International Monetary Fund pushed Ukraine to allow the sale of land. This opening took place in July 2021 with limitations: prohibition of sale to foreigners and legal entities, no possibility to accumulate more than 100 Ha per individual. This option will not change the situation of the multitude of small landowners who are otherwise insufficiently endowed to put into operation even the parcel they own and which they are therefore obliged to rent from a large company in order to obtain a minimal income. Today, the small peasant units have undoubtedly allowed the population to maintain access to local food and thus participate in the resistance to Russian aggression.

  • The ecological dimension

Land can no longer be considered as a simple support for agricultural production. It is a central element of ecosystems that stores carbon, water, mineral elements and hosts biodiversity. This should be a major motive to support much more the farmers whose activity is an essential contribution to the fight against climate change and the 6th mass extinction of animal and plant species.

In short, two main findings:

  • The concentration of agricultural production in increasingly large units is the consequence of the growth of capitalist agriculture to the detriment of family peasant agriculture.
  • The decoupling of land capital from operating capital has increased considerably, with :
    • more and more globalized financial investors owning shares in agricultural enterprises, 
    • the decoupling of the ownership of the farm (whose owners hold the rights to use the land by renting or owning it) from the work, which is carried out by employees with a more or less precarious status or by third-party agricultural work companies. In peasant agriculture, however, those who hold the rights to use the land do most of the agricultural work themselves.
  • Two examples: Ukraine and France (production unit of 2121 ha regrouping 12 farms in Vienne)

A few points of view for the debate

To give political and legal priority to peasant agriculture and not to capitalist agriculture

To give priority to peasant agriculture in access to land use rights under various modalities (from ownership to "indirect tenure" on the condition that the right of use is effectively and durably protected) and access to other production rights through regulations and public policies of financial support for access to the means of production (land, buildings, tools, inputs) under various forms (regulated prices, credit, quotas, endowments) and support for production prices (public purchasing interventions or purchasing subsidies, customs protection, etc.). Regulating access to irrigation water in favor of productions with higher added value and employment per hectare (fruit and vegetable crops versus field crops). Regulate access to land and water according to the added value and employment per hectare, and the sustainability of production systems.

  • To reinforce the protection of the rights of use of peasant agriculture rather than the property rights of non peasants (the example of the status of the farm in France but also of its limits today in the protection of peasant agriculture) by thinking of retirement systems that would compensate for the importance of property in the income of retired peasants.
  • Regulate land markets (rented and owned land) for the benefit of peasant farming projects
  • Regulate/ban? the markets for shares in production units on both a national and international scale
  • Promote sustainable agricultural practices 

Prohibit practices that harm ecosystems (limit the size of plots to 10, 12 ha to preserve biodiversity, while large farms currently benefit from economies of scale with plots of several dozen and even hundreds of hectares that impoverish biodiversity)

  • To institute a supranational capacity to sanction violations of social and environmental rights by European transnational corporations (TNCs) outside Europe:
  • The case of the extraterritorial responsibility of TNFs whose parent company is registered in France: the "progress" constituted by the French law on the duty of vigilance of multinational companies is debatable: the obligation it introduces concerns the identification by companies of social and environmental risks linked to their activities and the establishment of an action plan to prevent them, not the actual respect of international human rights or environmental law.
  • For all TNFs to institute a judge - currently non-existent at the global level - to sanction violations of international human rights and environmental law. An intergovernmental working group has been formed by the Human Rights Council to draft a treaty creating a binding instrument to regulate, within the framework of international human rights law, the activities of TNFs. The "Global Campaign to Dismantle TNF Power and End Impunity", led by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty, including Via Campesina, advocates a truly binding option.

What strategy?

Relying on certain orientations of European development formulated in the EU treaties (some of whose founding principles call in substance for "feeding the European population by providing employment to the greatest number of rural people") to depose the primacy of the free movement of capital in the EU. This would help to legitimize the demand for a European directive protecting peasant agriculture.

  • To require the EU to establish a register of European agricultural production units with the identification of the final beneficiaries who may control several farms, each holding rights to use the land (in ownership or leasehold): this involves, in particular, knowing the persons who are owners of the production units, without being agricultural workers. To combat money laundering and terrorism, the EU has required member states to set up a (computerized) register of the final beneficiaries of companies. 

For the management of the agricultural (and forest) ecosystems on which our lives depend, it is important to implement powerful measures. These files of final beneficiaries, which could be consolidated at the European level, would allow the implementation of a common agricultural policy in which aid is paid to active farmers and not to non-active owners of agricultural companies. Today, the EU distributes aid to "farms" which, over time, reinforces the income of shareholders without making it possible to support the income of agricultural workers (contrary to the objective of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, Article 39). This information should be made available to stakeholders: trade unions, elected officials, consumers, residents. This would be no more technically complicated to implement than the system of area declaration for CAP aid applications.