Funds miss the small farmers caring for marginal but environmentally valuable lands

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Source: Environmental News Network (ENN)

EU funding programmes that consider farmers only as food producers, neglect the environmental and social benefits they also provide.

This is one of the main conclusions of a series of studies recently completed by WWF and the European Forum for Nature Conservation and Pastoralism, and presented in Brussels on 15 May.

WWF-Danube-Carpathian Programme said that a common problem across region is that while EU funding programmes include measures for supporting high nature value farmland, many farmers cannot apply for this support as their land is not officially considered as agricultural land — being too forested or having too many stones or shrubs.

“In fact, it is exactly these kinds of marginal or diverse areas that are often the most valuable in terms of biodiversity”, said Dr. Yanka Kazakova of the WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

Some 2, 6 billion euros are available for supporting rural development and environment in Bulgaria and Romania until 2013. But relatively little of this money will reach the small farmers in these countries.

“Small-scale, semi-subsistence farmers form a large proportion of the land in Romania and Bulgaria and make a significant contribution to securing environmental benefits and services, from biodiversity to drinking water and flood management”, said Kazakova.

“Yet current EU and national policies, financial support and technical advice is not reaching them.”

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, they are 139’000, of which only 30% are eligible for area-based payments.

“The fact that payments for high nature value farmland exist at all in these rural development programmes is noteworthy”, said Kazakova. “They just need to be targeted more effectively.”

In addition, overly ambitious sanitary and veterinary requirements introduced as a result of EU policy harmonisation are preventing small-scale, local products from getting to market. As a result, many traditional, high quality products are disappearing.

Europe’s 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 are still in use. In Bulgaria, roughly one-third of the farmland is considered of high nature value.

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