Land concentration, land grabbing and peopleʼs struggles in Europe

This report has just been published (June 2013) by the Transnational Institute for European Coordination Via Campesina and Hands off the Land Network.  It was presented to the European Parliament on June 25.

The full report (236pp) can be downloaded here

TNI introduces the report and its recommendations as follows:

Land issues are rarely considered to be a problem for Europeans, or cause for peopleʼs struggles in Europe today, as it is elsewhere in the world – at least in the emerging literature on contemporary global land enclosures. But is this really the case? A closer look reveals quite the opposite.

Many deeply social, cultural, political and economic issues and concerns around land that are associated with countries and peoples in the global South exist all across the globe — including in a region where one might least expect it: Europe. In Europe today, concentration of land under ever larger holdings controlled by fewer hands, resulting (in part) from land grabbing and resulting in shrinking access to land for small-scale food producers, is accelerating. To what extent, how and why this is happening warrants far more critical attention than has been the case to date.

This collection aims to address this gap and spark meaningful and constructive discussion. It brings together case studies detailing the nature and extent of these problems in 13 countries. The case studies are capped by a final chapter that reflects on the situations they present from a human rights perspective, using the lens of the CFS Tenure Guidelines on Land, Fisheries and Forests, a new governance instrument that was supported by European governments and addresses tenure issues in relation to national food security and the progressive realisation of the right to food.

The study itself is just an initial attempt in what we hope will become a continuing conversation around land issues in Europe in particular and in the global North more generally. The current study is the product of an intensive and focused collective process, one involving a team of grassroots researchers, academics, and development practitioners, many of whom were already steeped in practical experience and knowledge regarding the particular situations they researched and wrote about here. The seeds of inquiry were planted in June 2012 and began germinating that Autumn; the early growth was examined, pruned and nurtured in a workshop that was held in Cluj-Napoca, Romania in December 2012; in January 2013 the first fruits were ready for taste-testing via a peer review process and layers of editorial work.

The whole project was spearheaded by the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), in close collaboration with the Hands Off the Land (HOtL) alliance and other organisations. The European Coordination Via Campesina is an organisation of 27 farmersʼ and agricultural workersʼ unions as well as rural movements working to achieve food sovereignty in Europe. The HOtL alliance brings together a number of organisations engaged in raising public awareness within Europe on pressing global land issues, including land grabbing, involving European policies and companies.

Until now the global phenomenon that is widely referred to as ʻland grabbingʼ has been generally assumed to be happening only in the Global South, and with many reports claiming that it is concentrated in Africa and that the main land grabbers are Chinese, Indian and South Korean companies as well as the Gulf States. Transnational social movement and NGO campaigns have likewise tended to accept unquestioningly this general assumption that land grabbing is a phenomenon focused on countries in the South, especially African countries. By bringing Europeʼs land issues into focus, the present study stands to change the way we think of contemporary land grabbing in at least three fundamental ways.

First, land grabbing is not the only important and pressing land issue in the world today; the ongoing trend of ʻgenericʼ land concentration is just as significant and problematic. Second, land concentration and land grabbing do not only occur in developing countries in the South, but are trends that are currently underway in Europe as well. Third, the study shows that peopleʼs struggles against land concentration and land grabbing are also unfolding in Europe, suggesting that a truly transnational perspective on political struggle against contemporary enclosures is certainly warranted, if not urgently needed. In this introduction we offer a discussion of the studyʼs main highlights, which are briefly summarised below.

1. Europe is currently experiencing tremendous and rapid land concentration.

This process is adversely affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers and agricultural workers. In many European countries, the degree of land-based inequality is similar to some countries with notoriously inequitable distribution of land ownership and land-based wealth such as Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines. In Europe today, tens of thousands of small farmers are being thrown out of farming every year, while large farms and agribusiness are expanding their scope widely and rapidly. The same logic of global capital accumulation imperatives that are the driving force in land grabbing globally, are underpinning land concentration processes in Europe: this is, the revaluation of land in light of the convergence of multiple crises around food, energy, climate and finance.

Yet two European processes have fused together with the converging crises, resulting in the explosive concentrating currents seen today. First, there is a privatisation drive in land property systems in the previously socialist countries, which is rapidly altering landscapes and livelihoods there. Second, there is a possible shift in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy scheme of the European Union (EU) that is directly tied to production, i.e. subsidy per hectare of farmland, and which may become an important incentive for well-to-do farmers, agribusiness and other speculators to accumulate land – just as the existing CAP subsidy system has been. Dramatic processes of land concentration within the EU have coincided with the concentration of the benefits of CAP subsidy in the hands of fewer and bigger land holdings. Simply put, there has been at least the coexistence of CAP subsidy system and tens of thousands of farmers being out of farming every year.

Importantly, while land concentration has always been part of the European scene (as it has elsewhere), we see a few features emerging in recent years that give it a distinct, contemporary character. These features pertain to: (i) the relatively newer/different context of global/European capital accumulation imperatives, combined with land concentration processes that are of a (ii) relatively newer character, (ii) alarming extent, (iii) worrying pace, and (iv) appalling manner. Land concentration turns out to be a very critical issue in Europe today, and ought to be understood as one of the most strategic development issues facing the European region and its peoples — directly involving at least 25 million people in the EU alone.

2. On par with the scale and character witnessed in Africa, Asia and Latin America – and so, to a greater extent than previously believed — land grabbing is underway in Europe as well.

Within the EU, land grabbing is especially significant in many of the relatively newer Member States, including at least three of the countries included in this study: Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, although arguably, it is taking place in Germany, Italy and Spain as well. As will be seen, as in other parts of the world, the scale of the land acquired is usually quite large: often involving thousands of hectares of land per deal.

As elsewhere, the ʻgrabbersʼ are not just confined to foreign actors, but domestic investors too, and therefore include not only those grabbers frequently highlighted in the mainstream media (e.g, Chinese capital and the Gulf States, for example), but also European capital as well. Indeed, European capital emerges as an important factor in all the countries studied here. Meanwhile, the nature of the land transactions brought to light here are often just as shady in character as those witnessed in Cambodia or Ethiopia, for instance.

Finally, it bears stressing that this phenomenon of land grabbing in Europe is unfolding both inside and outside the EU, and the present study also brings into focus the cases of Serbia and Ukraine, in addition to numerous cases inside the EU. Arguably, and as demonstrated in several case studies in this collection, CAP subsidy is one of the drivers of land grabbing within the EU – especially in Eastern Europe, and has helped to unleash the rise of a new class of ʻland grab entrepreneursʼ: land brokers, speculators and scammers whose activities are facilitating the dramatic, and in our view highly problematic, changes around land property relations and land use that are currently unfolding.

Overall, Europe is linked to the global land-grabbing phenomenon in at least three ways: (a) as context for land grabbing elsewhere, (b) as the origin of land grabbers, and (c) as a site for land grabbing. This 3-in-1 role of the region is quite similar to two other regions in the world, namely, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

3. Green grabbing – or land grabbing in the name of the environment – is an emerging phenomenon in Europe, as it is elsewhere in the world.

Europe is linked to green grabbing in at least two ways. On the one hand, EU policies such as its biofuels policy, embodied in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), as well as various global policies that it supports such as REDD+ (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), are crucial contexts for massive land grabbing happening in various other parts of the world. On the other hand, Europe is itself becoming an important site of green grabbing via increasing corporate investments in renewable energy that require both large-scale acquisitions of land, and significant changes in how land is used. Again, public subsidies for investments in renewable energy that are linked to land grabbing are increasingly an issue.

4. ʻArtificialisationʼ of land is a key underlying process leading to land concentration, land grabbing and green grabbing.

Changing lifestyles towards more urban ways, and capital accumulation imperatives (the need to continuously reinvent itself to generate profit) are leading to encroachment into agricultural land, eroding the latter through scattered but steady and widespread land use changes. In Europe, a significant amount of prime agricultural land (e.g., near road infrastructure or with irrigation, for example) is lost to urban sprawl, real estate speculation, tourism enclaves, and an array of other non-agricultural commercial undertakings – a process that many French farmer-activists call ʻartificialisation of landʼ. Although typically encroaching into the most fertile and productive agricultural lands in piece-meal fashion that in isolation may not seem like much, these scattered cases of usually smaller land deals ultimately add up to a substantial capture and loss of farmland across Europe.

5. Additionally, these processes of land concentration and land grabbing in the European setting are further reinforced by existing market dynamics and institutional rules, which effectively deny entry into agriculture to prospective farmers.

The process of putting small farmers out of farming and blocking the entry of prospective small farmers into the agricultural sector are two interlinked phenomena that are shaped by the push towards fewer and larger farm holdings. As will be seen in the country studies, this is an especially troubling – but even less visible — dimension of the land question in Europe today. It has a clear generational dimension too, one that raises additional fundamental questions about the very future of farming in Europe – not only what form it will take and what purposes it will serve, but who will do it.

6. Against these trends and in favour of alternatives, cross-class peopleʼs struggles are growing.

Vibrant peopleʼs struggles against land concentration, ʻartificialisation of landʼ, and land grabbing are definitely taking root and growing across Europe. These struggles are of two types. First, we are seeing the rise of defensive peopleʼs counter-enclosure campaigns where people are actively resisting dispossession or ʻartificialisation of landʼ. Second, we are seeing more pro-active peopleʼs enclosure campaigns where people are firmly asserting their own right to control land resources, including their right to cultivate and to choose how and for what purposes to farm.

One key feature of the protest front that is emerging across Europe is its multi-class character and capacity to bring together diverse categories of people: farmers, workers, consumers, urban gardeners, activists, young and old, men and women. Another is its territorial character: for various reasons the nascent protest front is reimagining and reshaping relations and relationships not just within the rural sphere, but also between rural and urban, and toward more territorial fields of action that criss-cross urban and rural boundaries in transformative ways.


In light of the findings of this report, the European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC), supported by various organizations directly and indirectly involved in this report, put forward a set of demands addressed to national and EU governmental bodies to address the triangular issues of land concentration, land grabbing and barriers to entry to farming. Our main demands are:

Land should regain importance as a public good. We must reduce the commodification of land and promote public management of territories. Priority should be given to the use of land for smallholder and peasant agriculture and food production against the simple private property commercial interests. Access to land should be given to those who work it or to those who want to work it in a socially and ecologically acceptable way. This opens the possibility for young people to enter the land, and simultaneously distances from those who currently control land but do not themselves work it. It also links with the statement that follows here below, i.e. that redistributive land policies are needed.

1) Stop and reverse the trend of extreme land concentration and commodification!

Carry out redistributive land policies (land reform, land restitution, affordable land rentals, and so on) in areas of concentrated ownership; Recognise historical use rights and communal land systems; Implement policies to support transformation of industrial farms into small family/ peasant farms/ food sovereignty projects, including urban agriculture.

2) Stop land grabbing!

Ban all investors and speculators (companies, banks/governments) that are operating, and/or grabbing land, in Europe and elsewhere in the world; Create a public databank/tracking system of the transactions of governments and companies engaged in land grabbing.

3) Assure access to land for farming, especially for young people, as the basis to achieve food sovereignty; and abolish the patriarchal system of land possession or heritage and promote policies of positive discrimination to assure access to land for farming for women.

Strengthen or create the participation of local communities in decision-making on land use; Develop legal frameworks for cooperative-type farms and co-ownership arrangements that would improve the situation of women in land ownership and make it easier for young people to set up a farm; Change the installation and renting criteria and adopt policies to support sustainable small farm/ peasantsʼ projects (e.g. leave minimal surface condition for subsidies); Push for the adoption and democratic application of the CFS Tenure Guidelines on responsible governance of land in Europe within a food sovereignty framework; Support concrete actions of recovering land (e.g. occupation of industrial zones); Create public management frameworks or reform existing ones (e.g. Safer, France) to facilitate the access of youth, landless people, also for other resources such as water; Prioritise the use of land for food versus agrofuel production and other commercial energy uses, extractive industries and useless megaprojects – in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Content of report

1. Introduction

Land concentration, land grabbing and peopleʼs struggles in Europe: Introduction to the collection of studies Saturnino Borras Jr., Jennifer Franco and Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

2. France

Land Grabbing, ʻArtificialisationʼ and Concentration in France: Causes, Consequences and Challenges Morgan Ody

3. Andalusia

Land: Access and struggles in Andalusia, Spain

Marco Aparicio, Manuel Flores, Arturo Landeros, Sara Mingorría, Delphine Ortega and Enrique Tudela

4. Germany

Land concentration, land grabbing and options for change in Germany

Roman Herre

5. Italy

Land concentration and green grabs in Italy: The case of Furtovoltaico in Sardinia Antonio Onorati and Chiara Pierfederici

6. France

Land Grabbing in France: The case of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport

Anton Pieper

7. Austria

The politics of land and food in cities in the North: Reclaiming urban agriculture and the struggle Solidarisch Landwirtschaften! (SoliLa!) in Austria Kim Möhrs, Franziskus Forster, Sarah Kumnig and Lukas Rauth members of the SoliLa! collective

8. Hungary

The Return of the White Horse: Land Grabbing in Hungary

Robert Fidrich

9. Romania

Scramble for land in Romania: Iron fist in a velvet glove

Judith Bouniol

10. Bulgaria

Land concentration, land grabbing and land conflicts in Europe: The case of Boynitsa in Bulgaria Georgi Medarov

11. Serbia

Land Grabbing and Land Concentration in Europe: The case of Serbia

Milenko Srećković

12. Ukraine

Land Grabs in the Black Earth: Ukrainian Oligarchs and International Investors

Christina Plank

13. Poland

Land Issues and land struggles in Poland

Jadwiga Lopata

14. Ireland

Land struggles in Ireland: “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland”

Fergal Anderson

15. CFS Tenure Guidelines

The myth of good land and natural resource governance in Europe: What the case studies reveal and how the CFS Tenure Guidelines on land, fisheries and forests provide guidance to revise European land policies Claire Guffens, Florence Kroff and Philip Seufert

Re-Designing and Re-Building the Infrastructure of our Food System

by Professor Gary Paul Nabhan*

The food re-localization movement is coming of age, for it was 21 years ago that visionary Robyn Van En began CSA North America, the first organization to promote community-supported agriculture across the continent. From her own collaboration with Susan Witt and others in Great Barrington, Mass., while establishing CSA Gardens in 1990, the CSA movement has grown to at least 4,570 documented American farms offering food shares to local community members, and their ranks actually may include as many as 6,500 gardens, farms, ranches and orchards using the CSA model.

By 2012, there were 7,864 farmers markets in the U.S., about 6,500 more than when the food re-localization movement was born in the early 1990s. Overall, the sales of foods marketed as “local” have sustained “growth rates” of 24 percent or more for at least 12 years. In truth, these are not “growth rates” but rates of restructuring, reducing the length of food chains for the benefit of both producers and eaters. In the specialty food industry, “local” has become the most important food marketing claim today, and is anticipated to remain so for at least the next three years.

While we feel gratified that the annual restructuring/growth rate of local foods sales has come to surpass that of Wal-Mart in the U.S. over the last 21 years, most of this restructuring in the food industry has been ad hoc. That is, it has resulted from widely dispersed, rather uncoordinated innovations by inspired individual entrepreneurs rather than through intentional redesign of the structure and function of our food systems. To date, no local food system has been fully redesigned to meet the three simultaneous goals of land health, human health and community economic health, restructuring its assets and processes to favor equity, sustainability and resilience over other values. However, recent initiatives such as the Neo-Food Network in Cleveland, the Roots of Change initiative in the Bay Area and Transition Colorado in the Front Range are well along their way to reaching these three goals in their communities.

What I wish to state pointedly is that we will likely fail to achieve the goals of land health and human health for our communities if we do not also employ new and innovative strategies to foster community economic health. We can have orchards that grow hundreds of varieties of perennial crops, such as heirloom apples, that retain soil, sequester carbon and sustain biodiversity, but unless those crops remain economically viable, we will lose such natural assets. Likewise, we may have local restaurants and cafeterias featuring healthy foods that can reduce diabetes and heart diseases, but if they are loaning money through conventional banks with headquarters in New York or Geneva, financial as well as human resources are still likely to drain away from our communities.

This is where Slow Money can and must play a pivotal role. As the food re-localization movement reaches maturity, it must intensify its exploration of novel means to finance the startup and maintenance of innovative food and farming microenterprises across the country. Until now, we have had few means to keep the wealth recycling and doing added good in our community economies. Until now, we have gone as far as we can possibly go in food re-localization without rebuilding the infrastructure we have lost from most food-producing landscapes over the last half-century: grist mills, nurseries for locally adapted trees and pollinator-attracting plants; meat processing plants co-located with biodiesel generator, bone and blood meal processors, hide tanners and charcuteries. We cannot make many more gains — or even sustain the current “restructuring rates” — without employing the strategies that Slow Money and its many allies are now exploring.

Let me offer just one of many examples of such innovative strategies for community economic health being explored in my own rural area of Santa Cruz County, Arizona, where unemployment rates continue to be as high as 17.1 percent and per capita income is a paltry $16,209 a year. We have recently incorporated Borderlands Restoration LLC — Arizona’s first approved limited profit, limited liability, for-profit/nonprofit hybrid — to rebuild the hydrological, ecological and social services upon which our food security depends. For the last two years, we have been restoring water flows to formerly dry watercourses and restoring wildlife habitats on farms and ranches to attract and sustain pollinator populations sufficient to ensure economic crop yields. We have initiated several “guerrilla” nursery operations to produce native pollinator-attracting plants and heirloom fruits adapted to our changing climate. At least six farms and ranches now are certified as “pollinator-friendly,” and Patagonia, Ariz., is proudly hailing itself as the “pollinator capital of the United States” due to its diversity and abundance of wild pollinators. We see the restoration of pollinator populations and hydrological flows in desert watercourses as a means of rebuilding the “natural infrastructure” for a more sustainable desert agriculture, one that will be increasingly needed as the ecological impacts of climate change accelerate.

We are beginning a campaign to co-locate on the same parcel of working lands a large native plant nursery, rentable acreage to incubate new farmers of food crops, a grass bank for ranchers to draw upon during drought years, irrigated hay pastures, and a major composting facility that will draw upon the food wastes coming from the Nogales port of entry, the third-largest portal for fresh vegetables and fruit coming into the U.S. At the same time, we will restore riparian habitat, wetlands and natural mesquite savannas and grasslands to retain both rare species and economically important ones, such as pollinators and harvestable wild fruits.

These initiatives have the potential to create rural livelihoods with livable wages in a way that heals differences between ranchers and environmental activists, between Anglos and Hispanics, and between rural and urban residents. Our economic structure may need to be more innovative in order to ensure that these projects draw upon and regenerate local wealth, but our goals are anciently traditional: to keep people connected to the land and to one another.

While we welcome intellectual input and investments to help our southern Arizona food system redesign succeed, we are just as interested in helping other communities meet their goals in ensuring land health, human health and economic health. Slow Money’s pivotal leadership role in this next phase of food re-localization — and in rebuilding soil and water reserves — cannot be overstated. Its emergence has occurred at a critical moment in American history.

Gary Paul Nabhan, a MacArthur Fellow who sometimes is referred to as the father of the local food movement, is the Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems for the Borderlands at the University of Arizona, and is on the leadership team of the Borderlands Habitat Restoration Initiative that has spawned the Borderlands Restoration L3C. Visit Nabhan’s website for his many writings.

This talk was given on November 9 2012 at the Inaugural Meeting of Earthworm Angels in Sausalito, Calif.

Whatever happened to those eco towns?

One of them — North West Bicester, has just been awarded One Planet Living status.

Here’s the NW Bicester Action Plan to 2020

And this is what they’re planning on the “local, sustainable food” front:

Promoting on-site food growing

o 0.5ha area of allotments provided for residents

o Edible fruit tree provided in every garden and free vegetable seeds with each welcome pack

o Establish two community orchards

o Edible planting integrated into the landscaping plan; to include fruit trees and bushes, herbs and edible plants. Tours offered to residents highlighting edible plants and their uses

o Communal composting site established for allotments Building a culture of valuing fresh, local produce

o Healthy, seasonal food to be offered during construction through site canteen

o Aspire to provide cookery classes in café or eco pub

o Promote sustainable food sources via Shimmy

o A2Dominion to work with local groups to build culture towards 100% composting of food waste, and scrumping, establishing an ‘Abundance Project’

o Establish a central collection point for veg box deliveries and community buying deliveries

Promote home cooking and communal feasting

o Kitchens designed to encourage home cooking. Free ‘cook seasonal’ recipe book on Shimmy

o Built in BBQs in communal areas to promote parties / feasts

o Encourage festivals and seasonal food fairs

Local, sustainably produced food accessible to all

o Sustainable/local sourcing of food covenants to be written into tenancy agreements for all food outlets

o Establish a regular local farmers market

o Promote and offer incentives to buy local, organic veg boxes prior to the Coop store opening on the Exemplar

o Eco pub/ cafe to offer fresh and locally sourced high quality food, with aspiration to provide training opportunities for chefs

o Investigate the value of using fixed targets, (E.g. 40% of food sold on site to be locally sourced within 50miles / organic and/or Fairtrade)

Education and raising awareness about the ecological impact of food

o A2Dominion / LMO to work with primary school to establish ‘kids allotments’ and education programmes around food

o Coop and community centre to disseminate information on the impact of food and the benefits of sourcing local, seasonal, sustainably sourced produce

o The LMO and Green Champions to promote healthier, lower impact diets, through events such as ‘veggie days’ and general awareness raising

The announcement was made on November 22 2013:

“The first, exemplar phase of the North West Bicester eco town development has been awarded One Planet Living status, one of only six developments in the world to achieve this benchmark.

One Planet Living is a coveted mark which confirms the project as making a sustainable future a reality today.

Globally we are consuming resources and polluting the planet at a level 40 per cent higher than the earth can renew or absorb. One Planet Living is a framework of ten principles designed by BioRegional to ensure people everywhere can enjoy a high quality of life within the resource capacity of our one planet.

Developer, A2Dominion, has committed to working to this framework in an action plan to create a One Planet Community within NW Bicester.

It will ensure the new community achieves dramatic reductions in waste, pollution and climate-changing carbon emissions compared to conventional new development, while boosting health, happiness and wildlife-rich green surroundings for its residents.

The NW Bicester development was highlighted earlier this year at Rio+20, the environmental summit attended by the World’s leaders, along with other One Planet Communities such as One Brighton, Petite Rivière in Montreal, Jinshan in China and Mata de Sesimbra in Portugal.”

News from Barbets Duet

The founders of the Barbets Duet believe that we will only protect ecosystems if we are rewarded for doing so.   At present, it is easy to make money by cutting a forest down, but no one gets paid for leaving a forest standing.   We therefore need to invent the institutional rules and market mechanisms which will reward people who protect habitats and maintain or increase valuable biodiversity.

The Barbets Duet is an experiment in systemic invention. It is organized around a network of learning sites in East Africa, the UK and the USA. At each site, people are experimenting with their own land and communities to discover new ways of managing the land: environmentally, economically and socially.

Here, Barbara Heinzen gives a Progress Report (July12 2012)

Who owns UK agricultural land

‘Making Land Available for Woodland Creation’ — a research report (June 2012) from the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research, although written with the Forestry Commission in mind, includes some interesting information on Who owns agricultural land in the UK

It thus

1. Identifies the extent of agricultural land currently under private, institutional and public ownership; and

2. Characterises the nature, scale and geography of the agricultural land market

A useful source of information.

The impact of community supported agriculture

“Community  supported  agriculture  (CSA)  is  a  radical   approach  to  the  production and  supply  of  food  that   builds  strong,  close  and  mutually  beneficial  partnerships   between  communities  and  producers.  Though  still  a   niche  element  of  the  local food sector  and  representing  a   tiny  part  of  the  food  system  as  a  whole,  CSA  offers  a   powerful  approach  to  reconnecting  people  and   agriculture.  It  is  increasingly attractive  as  an  answer  to   popular  concerns  about  sustainability,  resilience  and   transparency  in  the  food  system.  As  it  grows  more   rapidly,  albeit  from  a  small base,  CSA  has  potential  to   play  a  greater  role  in  the  provision  of  sustainable  food and  to  deliver  other  benefits,  including  the  increased   wellbeing  of  participants, skills  development,  and   provision  of  local  employment  and  volunteering opportunities.

Our  evaluation  of  the  impact  of  CSA  in  England  finds  that   at  least  80  CSA initiatives  are  providing  multiple  benefits   to  thousands  of  members,  their communities,  local   economies  and  the  environment.”

The Impact of Community Supported Agriculture. Final Report, Nov 2011

Introducing Crofting

By Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation. The SCF, based in the Kyle of Lochalsh, safeguards and promotes the rights, livelihoods and culture of crofters and their communities.

There are 18,000 crofts in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland – mostly in the Western and Northern isles and in the coastal fringes of the western and northern Scottish mainland. Between them they occupy a quarter of all the agricultural land – one eighth of all of Scotland’s farmland. Some crofters have more than one holding but still there are 13,000 of them; so the total crofting population, including families, is 33,000: one tenth of the Highland and Island population.

The system is unique to the Highlands and Islands. It is both a social system and a form of tenure in which small-scale food production plays an important and unifying role. It evolved from a turbulent period in the areas’ history — the Highland Clearances — largely as a means of sustaining populations. Much of the landscape is renowned for it High Nature Value and the crofters manage it in empathy with nature using time-tested methods that are kind to the environment, to the produce, and to the consumer. For the most part the crofters eke out a living in remote areas, in harmony with the environment – yet they are marginalized both politically and practically. As it is said, crofters live on “The Edge”.

An Act of Parliament of 1886 created the crofting legislation and provided for security of tenure (most crofters are tenants still to this day).  Tenants were thus empowered to improve their conditions both materially and socially because they knew that the area of ground under their control could be transferred within families and on to future generations. But also — unique to crofting – the  land is regulated, whether under tenancy or owner-occupancy. Crofters are obliged to occupy and use the land — or risk having it occupied by someone else.

The crofting system is based around “townships” – communities of two or more crofts. These are typically units of 2 to 5 ha of better quality “in-bye” used for keeping animals and growing forage, arable crops and vegetables. “Out-run”, lower quality land, may also be used individually for grazing whilst the hill ground is managed as common grazing for cattle and sheep.

Crofting was characterized by its common working and thereby strong communities, but this is breaking down in many areas as livestock declines – mainly because the Single Farm Payment and low market prices have removed much of the incentive.

Crofters could be described as the first environmentalists – managing natural resources in harmony with the environment. Their small-scale and extensive agriculture has delivered some of the most stunning High Nature Value habitats within the U.K. They have increased bio-diversity and have preserved the habitats of many rare species now extinct elsewhere in the UK.

It is usually not possible to make a living from crofting agriculture alone and crofting communities do several jobs, contributing to their livelihood and further supporting the rural economy. So crofting is significant in all aspects of rural development, embodying the principles of diversification, co-operation, entrepreneurial vision and community spirit. It is this resourcefulness and attachment to the land which maintains crofting populations in some of the most fragile, remote and challenging areas of Western Europe. Crofters are justifiably proud of their way of life.

Some basic facts

  • There are just over 18,000 registered crofts, and roughly 13,000 crofters (some crofters have the tenancy of more than one croft). That represents some 33,000 family members, or around 10% of the population of the Highlands and Islands.
  • Crofting households represent around 30% of households in the rural areas of the mainland Highlands.
  • Crofting households represent up to 65% of households in Shetland, the Western Isles and Skye.
  • There are 770,000 hectares under crofting tenure, being 25% of the agricultural area in the Highlands and Islands and 12.5% of Scotland’s agricultural land. Of this 0.58 million hectares is common grazing.
  • Livestock production accounts for 47 per cent of Scottish agricultural output – a figure much higher than in England. Crofters have around 20% of all beef cattle and 45% of breeding ewes in the Highlands and Islands area, though numbers are declining.
  • Land use in the crofting counties is constrained by climate, soils and topography. Virtually all of the land in the crofting counties is classified as Severely Disadvantaged in terms of the European Less Favoured Area Directive, yet these areas receive the lowest LFA payments.

Further information can be found at

The Future Lies with the Community

In North Somerset farmer Luke Hasell and friends have set up The Story Group company and a Community Farm to produce high quality organic food and involve the local people

In life-changing circumstances in 2003 and 2007, following the death of both my parents, I faced huge challenges and questions about what to do with the farm and the business that my parents ran.  I continued farming and now I manage 550 acres near Bristol and Bath in North Somerset – running the whole farm as an organic enterprise and trying to sell our own produce direct to our customers. Right now among other things we have 60 South Devon cows and a small herd of North Devon cattle to satisfy the National Trust agreement and conservation grazing project which state North Devons as their preference.

In 2005, Jim Twine, a life-long friend and now business partner approached me to join forces both to help manage his own 100-acre Court Farm at Winford — and to set up a business to be called “The Story Group”.  We chose the name because we are passionate about creating great tasting local and organic food that respects the animals and the environment – and we want people to know the story behind the meat they eat and to tell you all about it. In short, The Story Group is a local company with a real story to tell.

Recently we have managed to include two new Directors by involving another local farming family, Bill & Emma Yeates. Bill and Emma specialize in poultry and produce organic chickens, and they also rent 60 acres of woodland and have large black pigs and a small number of sheep.   They have installed a processing plant at Court Farm, and have helped us to establish The Story Butchery unit and processing area at our new shop in Wrington, a village of nearly 3000 people about nine miles east of Weston-Super-Mare. The shop and the processing unit enable us to take complete control of our supply chain.  We have also forged good links with Bristol University. This includes the Veterinary College at Langford which is only two miles away and has an abattoir with great facilities where we can hang and cure our meat.

More broadly, though, we believe that the future lies in collaboration. So:

* We are developing a link with a local crèche for pre-school children at the site of the butchery and farm shop.

* A local couple have set up a small vineyard and have storage facilities at our shop.

* Another company sub-lets three acres of land for producing flowers.

* Recently we have also joined forces with a local pub who have helped us stage some pop-up restaurants on the farm where we cook some wonderful Sunday Roasts with all of the farms’ produce. On two Sundays in 2011 we cooked over 1000 roast dinners.

But also –as a separate exercize to the Story Group — I have co-founded a 50-acre Community Farm: Woodbarn Farm, at Chew Magna. The Community Farm is part of the 550 acres that has belonged to my family for many generations, and I chose the particular site partly because the surrounding landscape is so beautiful but also because I wanted to enable the next generation to make a connection with the land, for it to be somewhere people could visit and enjoy, and for the memory of my parents to live on in a place where they so loved spending time. We want the Community Farm to be a place where people of all ages can learn about the environment, organic farming and animal care whilst taking an active role in the community.  The core aims are:

  • Food – Providing local food for local people
  • Education and Participation – The Farm aims to provide opportunities for people to develop skills as they in turn contribute meaningfully to the development of the Farm.
  • Community Integration – The Farm aims to create and maintain a welcoming and supportive social network to create an accessible community resource.
  • The Environment – The Farm will promote sustainable development in an environmentally friendly way that supports and respects wildlife and provides its animals with the highest welfare standards.

Education is key and we aim to have regular visits from local schools and businesses to raise the awareness of what can be achieved.   We will develop educational programmes that strive to raise the awareness of the social and economic importance of agriculture in our daily lives.

We have run several workshop days over the last two years, which have been very successful, allowing people to get really involved both in the production and cultivation of the crops themselves and what it could mean to be a member or a farmer.

So how does all this work logistically? The Community Farm is set up as a Community Benefit Society – a not for profit enterprise. From our first year’s experience over a three-acre trial, it was evident that for a large-scale vegetable operation you needed a full time grower and a number of staff.  The following year Phil Haughton approached us to see if he could grow 10 acres of vegetables and to continue to develop a community supported agriculture project (a CSA). Now the Community Farm has a committee of 11 people, all volunteers, 16 Staff, and over 450 investors, and we supply over 400 vegetable boxes per week to families in and around Bristol and Bath. The Community Farm is registered as a Community Interest Company with the Financial Services Authority, so that the members involved can assist in running the project and in helping to build a community.  Knowing the farm gives people an insight into the seasons, the land, and their food – and it gives them access to a place where their children and grandchildren can learn about nature and farming.

In 2011 we launched a Community investment share offer: people can invest anything from £50 up to £20,000 to become involved and to shape the future of the farm – and  we’ve already raised a staggering £180,000 from just over 460 investors.  The capital enabled us to transfer some of the assets of the existing business and to pay for additional infrastructure works and staff to develop it further.  While the financial return on investment may be limited, the social return and community benefits will more than compensate.  In the long term we are hoping to be able to provide a return on any investment over £500 but the initial commitment is for three years and it will be up to the board to decide how the shareholders ultimately take their dividends.

What of the future? Local Government and councils need to adapt to the future of food and farming and wake up to the crisis that is looming.  There needs to be a reallocation of land, and partnerships created with councils, businesses and individuals to enable good honest community led organisations to feel empowered and to make a difference to the place in which they live.   We need to centralise the network of food businesses and to get the end consumer to realise that good healthy food is just around the corner.  Shaking the hand that feeds you is exactly how communities need to live and respect each other.  CSAs are a tool in creating the future systems of our food network — and allow anyone to get involved.  In fact they do not even have to evolve around a farm or land. We need to develop CSAs that complete the story and have community led food hubs / supermarkets / shops and restaurants. The end consumer can change the future. By supporting local farmers today, they will be helping to ensure there will be farms in the community tomorrow.

Over the short time I have been farming I have become increasingly concerned about the future of food and agriculture.  For me the biggest issue facing us today is how to engage with young people and get the next generation involved.   The Community Farm allows this to happen – for you do not need to own land to farm land; and our farming systems do not have to be large-scale operations as the supermarkets and others lead us to believe.

With the growing recognition of the need for environmentally sustainable production systems that are less reliant on fossil fuels, I am confident that The Community Farm has a lot to offer and believe that a fully integrated system can work for any local town or village.  The Community Farm aims to become a unique model of food and farming and one that can be transferred to other places around the UK.