Farming in the EU has sharply declined since the 1990s. In the 12 member states that made up the EU there were 8 million farms, by 2000 when Austria, Finland and Sweden were added to the list, the number of farms in the EU declined to 6.6 million.
Overall, the farms in Europe are decreasing at the rate of 2% every year. In countries such as Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the UK the decline were up to 8% a between 2002 and 2003.
In addition to decrease in farms, the demography of farmers is also changing. Today only 6% of farmers are under the age of 35 in the EU, while 34% of all farmers are above 65.
Reasons for change
There are various factors that are responsible for these changes. One of them is both the size and profitability of farming. Firstly, many farms are being consolidated in the hands of a few big corporations. This means that while small-scale farming has decline, large-scale farming has been booming. In Germany, the average farm size has increased from 10 to 40 hectares in the past 40 years.
When looking at the financial breakdown of EU support for farmers, we can easily see why the big farms have been getting bigger, while the small ones have come close to disappearing. As ironic as it may be, while the price on food has been increasing from year to year, farmer wages have been declining.
The European Parliament has noted that between 1995 and 2002 the prices paid to farmers for their produce has declined by 1.1%. In France, prices paid to farmers have declined by 15% for beef and 30% for pork between 1990 and 2008. And while the EU also has a subsidy system, most of the money is concentrated in small hands.
74% of the European Community’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds that yearly go to aid farmers is received by 20% of EU farmers (mainly big corporations), while 70% of farmers must share only 8% of the funds.
In addition to all the money and land worries, the lifestyle of a farmer is becoming ever so stressful. The stress, work-related accidents, illnesses, high levels of suicide due to mounting debts and more restrictions as new laws are created around seeds, and their trade.
Empirical evidence of farming across the EU has shown that the situation is getting worse, with increasing human right abuse cases, economic exploitation and lack of job security. These workers are known as the ‘new slaves of capitalism’. (Herman, 2008). This slow monopolization of our farming in the hands of big companies is like a rope around the necks of small-scale farmers that is getting tighter with each year.
Our current food system is in need of a complete fix. One thing we can start with is fair wages for farmers and a fairer distribution of the EU CAP funds.
1.Pimbert, Michel. “Participatory Research and On-Farm Management of Agricultural Biodiversity in Europe.”
Posted by Hokuma Karimova