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Common Agricultural Policy reform

Traditional farming landscapes around the world are rich in biodiversity and cultural heritage, both of which are typically lost from areas dominated by modern agriculture. A new international study published in the leading journal Conservation Letters (2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2012.00227.x) argues for a novel approach for the sustainable development of traditional farming landscapes. Such landscapes face a conundrum: on the one hand, their social and economic development is a high priority, but on the other hand, conventional development pathways can destroy their immense natural and cultural heritage.

According to the lead author of the study, Professor Joern Fischer from Leuphana University Lueneburg, the findings have implications for the upcoming 2013 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): "Virtually all of the debate about the CAP reform to date has been about who ought to receive farming subsidies in the future, and for which practices. The debate is dominated by lobby groups focusing either on economic growth, or the modernisation of farming practices, or the environment. A much more holistic approach is needed to develop a vision for the future of Europe's agricultural landscapes."

A key challenge is to maintain high biodiversity, while also allowing for socioeconomic development. Dr Tibor Hartel, co-author of the study, works in Transylvania in Central Romania, one of Europe's most biodiverse farming landscapes: "Our landscapes are highly biodiverse, and the CAP reform should help to maintain the immense natural heritage in landscapes such as those in Transylvania. But people here are poor, so we must also find ways to develop economically, too. It can't be one or the other, we need both!"

Professor Tobias Kümmerle from the Geography Department of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, who also contributed to the study, has worked across Eastern Europe. His work has repeatedly shown what conventional agriculture can do to biodiversity: "In many regions of Eastern Europe, agriculture is now practiced intensively, with big fields, and lots of chemical inputs. Implementing this kind of agriculture in Europe’s few remaining traditional landscapes would destroy their exceptional biodiversity."

But how can biodiversity conservation and economic development be harmonised? Professor Fischer argues that we need to think outside the box. "It seems like at present, all we can think of is to somehow pay people so they keep using ancient practices. The idea is that we give them subsidies to effectively preserve the past. A preservation strategy will fail: it is an artificial link between people and nature. Instead of such artificial links, we need more meaningful linkages between people and the environment."

Reflecting on the nature of traditional linkages, Dr Hartel says: "In the traditional societies of Eastern Europe people have had very direct connections with nature. People looked after the land, and the land gave them crops, fresh water, hay for domestic livestock, fruit and many other ecosystem services. The inherent incentive for using sustainable land use strategies was the need to maintain these ecosystem services – unlike today, it’s never been about payments. Besides financial incentives, we need to develop strategies to keep the inherent connection between people and nature in traditional landscapes."

The study concludes that the CAP reform must think beyond narrowly focused subsidies geared either at enhancing agricultural production, or at maintaining traditional and potentially outdated practices. Local initiatives should be supported that aim to re-create genuine links between people and nature, for example via regional specialty food products (such as fine cheeses or wine), or via cultural and ecological tourism. Professor Fischer concludes: "The CAP reform is a huge opportunity. Instead of just debating who ought to get which slice of the subsidy cake, the EU could use this opportunity to lead the world in systematically re-connecting people and nature. The benefits of such a move for sustainable development can't be overstated."



Prof. Dr. Tobias Kümmerle
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Phone: +49 30 2093-9372