Written by Tom Carman and Ruth West, Real Farming Trust.
Land is what we use to grow the food we eat. For years in the UK many new entrants to farming, as in the rest of Europe, have been facing increasing difficulties accessing affordable and secure land. There were and still are a mixture of reasons contributing to these difficulties, which have been identified as part of an Erasmus partnership and learning programme working across Europe called Access to Land. This project is pooling knowledge and experience from organisations in France, Romania, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany and the UK.
The starting point for this work was looking at the barriers and hurdles facing new entrants to farming. The demand for land is high as there are competing interests for its use – farming, housing, woodland enterprise, industrial developments etc. Planning systems across Europe are regulated to different degrees, and whilst planning systems can help to bring different stakeholders together to discuss land use, they don’t align with the timing needs for farmers to make a living. In addition to this, there is scepticism amongst the status quo in UK farming about the viability of alternative approaches to food production and land management such as agro-ecology, organic and bio-dynamic farming or permaculture. This is despite increasing evidence that these approaches can provide a living and the increasingly obvious need for land to be managed in a way that is good for the planet. There is also competition amongst entrant farmers, as when scare land does become available there are many people who apply to use it.
Difficult land access has had strategic, structural and operational effects on countries. For instance the UK is not producing enough food: around 60% is imported, with many horticultural products coming from Spain. The effect of this has been to decrease the pool of entrant farmers in the UK leaving an increasingly aging farming population. The result has been a loss of farming skills and a lack of innovation – new entrant farmers bring with them the desire and knowledge to practice agro-ecologial farming, but without the ability to access land, they cannot build experience or share agro-ecological credibility.
The exciting part to this work though, is learning about innovative approaches that are helping agro-ecologial farmers to access land better. For example, Terre de Liens in France has successfully brought together key stakeholders across France including local authorities, conventional farming regulators, citizens and new entrants to open up 3,000 hectares of French farmland to organic food production. In Germany, a network of land access co-operatives has started to emerge that work from a national to local level, opening up land for agro-ecological farmers. And in the UK, the Community Supported Agriculture network is supporting the growth of local communities wanting to share the risks of food production with the farmer.
As part of the Erasmus programme, The A-Team Foundation sponsored a film exploring the shared challenges facing new entrants from the participating countries in their search for land.