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24th Oct 2021

Small-scale farmers struggle for EU funds

While large EU states are scrapping over how to get more environmental bang for the EU's agricultural buck, in the southeast corner of the EU, small-scale farming – which contributes the most to biodiversity – is not getting the support it needs.

This is the initial conclusion of a series of studies jointly realised by the WWF and the European Forum for Nature Conservation and Pastoralism and funded by the Dutch government that were presented to European Commission on Thursday (15 May).

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  • Traditional farmers in Bulgaria and Romania often find it difficult to access EU funds (Photo: European Commission)

The EU has made some €2.6 billion available for supporting rural development and the environment in Bulgaria and Romania up to 2013, but not much of this finds its way to subsistence farmers, according to the investigation.

There are currently 4 million subsistence farmers in Romania with less than 2 hectares of land that are not eligible for any kind of support.

In Bulgaria, there are 139,00 semi-subsistence farmers, of which only 30 percent are eligible for area-based payments.

"[These farmers] make a significant contribution to securing environmental benefits and services, from biodiversity to drinking water and flood management," said Yanka Kazakova of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

In the Danube-Carpathian region, many local species and their characteristic habitats depend upon continued good management of small farms to sustain diversity.

This sort of farming depends on low-input farming practices and tend to be a more environmentally friendly form of agriculture than its industrialised cousin.

The highest concentration of well-maintained high nature value areas is in the countries of Central and South Eastern Europe, largely due to the traditional farming practices that remain in use. In Bulgaria, roughly one-third of the farmland is considered of high nature value.

EU agricultural support is supposed to help precisely this sort of farming, but instead is mostly directed at large landowners and agribusiness.

The WWF studies found that the basic problem is the focus on the economic viability of farms – effectively disqualifying the subsistence and semi-subsistence farms.

The investigation also found that although EU funding programmes include measures for supporting high nature value farmland, many farmers cannot apply for these or indeed any support as their land is not officially considered as agricultural land, although it may be rich in biodiversity.

Another problem plaguing many areas of the region is unclear land tenure. As a result, farmers can often apply only for funds for considerably less land than they actually use.

"The fact that high nature value farmland payments exist at all in these rural development programmes is noteworthy," Ms Kazakova said. "Now they just need to be targeted more effectively."

"It is essential that EU as well as national policy makers take into account not only economic but also environmental and social benefits of EU funding programmes," she added.

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