common agricultural policy cap

CAP and rural development

Supporting Europe's farmers and developing rural communities

The CAP has played an important role in the development of organic farming in Europe. Support for maintenance and conversion to organic farming is available in almost all EU countries since the 1990’s. To incentivise and help farmers transition to more sustainable practices, this major EU policy needs an important reform.

eric gall
Eric Gall
Deputy Director / Policy Manager

Since 1962, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has played a crucial role in developing European farming. To date, almost 33% of the EU budget goes to the Common Agricultural Policy. EU and national policymakers’ decisions about which farming systems and practices to promote through the CAP directly shape the kind of food system we have in the EU.

If we want to transform European food and farming, in addition to reforming the CAP, key drivers for change in rural areas will be better funding for public services, generalising uptake of digital technologies, ensuring generational renewal and promoting bio-districts.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) consists of two ‘pillars’. The first pillar covers direct payments to farmers, often based on the size of a farm, and market measures. The second pillar covers rural development policy and includes support for agri-environmental measures, including organic farming. While the first pillar consists of 100% EU money, rural development policy is co-funded by national (and sometimes regional) budgets.

Support for organic farming remains relatively limited compared to the overall CAP budget. Investments in organic farming (conversion and maintenance) account for around 1.5% of current EU agricultural spending. Despite improvements over the past decades, sustainability is still not at the core of the CAP’s architecture, making the policy ill-equipped to address the challenges facing the agri-food sector. The CAP’s second pillar is more environmentally and socially progressive but only receives 25% of the CAP’s budget.

Organic farming holds great potential for farmers and consumers alike. The European Commission acknowledged this by setting a target of 25% organic land in the EU by 2030 in their Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.  Organic farming indeed delivers public goods in many areas, such as biodiversity, water quality, soil health and air quality (Sanders & Hess, 2019).

It also creates jobs and attracts young farmers. Policy support for organic farming is crucial to develop both organic production and demand, and balanced push-pull policies can increase the provision of public goods. To enable this, IFOAM Organics Europe advocates for the future CAP to offer organic farmers the possibility to receive support for conversion and/or maintenance from both the second pillar and/or the first pillar through eco-schemes.

The CAP is the main policy instrument that could make the objectives of the Organic Action Plan, the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies a reality. However, it needs a significant reform to become truly efficient to contribute to biodiversity protection, pesticides, antibiotics and fertilisers use reduction, and to further increase organic production and consumption.

The CAP needs to be adequately funded to support farmers and help them transition to more sustainable practices.

IFOAM Organics Europe…

  • Advocates with like-minded NGOs for a fairer, more sustainable and better governed common agriculture and food policy that will enable farmers to reach Green Deal targets.
  • Proposes to put the principle of ‘public for money for public goods’ at the heart of the CAP. Instead of receiving untargeted support, farmers should be rewarded based on their contribution to public goods, in particular preserving environmental services.
  • Works with EU institutions to ensure they use organic farming’s contribution to the CAP’s objectives and provide adequate support for organic conversion and maintenance – through rural development and eco-schemes.
CAP Strategic Plans & 25% organic land target

On 29 June 2021, at its General Assembly, IFOAM Organics Europe presented the new study ‘Prospects & developments for organic in national CAP Strategic Plans‘. The study visualises the efforts every country needs to put into place to reach their potential national targets, which should fairly contribute to the EU average 25% target.

In 2019, Europe had an organic land area of 9%, with average payments rates of €213.15/hectare. Only 64% of the certified organic area is currently receiving organic support payments, amounting to almost €2 million of CAP support/year (Note: Average payment rate, percentage of certified area supported, and total spend are 2018 data).

Achieving 25% organic land in the EU by 2030 would require the EU to:

  • Triple its organic land area between 2019 and 2030;
  • Increase its overall CAP expenditure 3-5-fold by 2030;
  • Dedicate 9-15% of the CAP budget to organic (instead of 3% as in 2018).

Achieving 25% organic land in the EU by 2030 would require Member States to:

  • Increase payment rates per hectare before 2030 – to consider increases in costs since payments rates were last set in 2014;
  • Some individual countries with low levels of support for organic farming would need to consider a 5-10-fold increase in expenditure to deliver realistic targets for their national organic land area.

According to IFOAM Organics Europe, Member States should introduce a national target for organic land in their CAP Strategic Plan, based on an analysis of the organic sector’s production needs, and of its contribution to the CAP, EU Green Deal, Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies’ objectives. The Commission should ensure that all CAP Strategic Plans include a target for organic land representing a fair contribution to the EU’s 25% target. Countries have different baselines and should have different targets, and Member States with already more than 25% organic land should also continue to develop organic farming. This is in line with the EU Organic Action Plan’s call for all Member States to set a target and national strategic plan for developing their organic sectors.

To find out by how much the EU and every Member State should increase their payment rates to achieve 25% organic land in the EU by 2030, have a look at our EU-27 and country cards:

Austria | Belgium | Bulgaria | Croatia | Cyprus | Czech Republic | Denmark | Estonia | Finland | France | Germany | Greece | Hungary | Ireland | Italy | Latvia | Lithuania | Luxembourg | Malta | Netherlands | Poland | Portugal | Romania | Slovakia | Slovenia | Spain | Sweden

Rural development

Revitalising rural areas

Organic farms are key to developing ‘sustainable rural development’, where economic growth, improving social conditions and conserving natural values are equally important. Organic farming enjoys a dynamic growth in many EU countries, both in terms of demand, market, and production.

Key drivers for change in rural areas will be better funding for public services, generalising uptake of digital technologies, ensuring generation renewal and promoting bio-districts.

Organic farming and short supply chains have gained even more attention since the COVID-19 crisis. This potential could be further developed using instruments like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the new Organic Action Plan (OAP) and Horizon Europe, the EU’s research policy. The Biodiversity and the Farm to Fork strategies put organic farming at the heart of a transition to sustainable food systems, with a target to reach 25% organic land on average at EU level by 2030. This objective is ambitious but achievable, with the right support policies in place to develop both organic production and demand for organic products, and will greatly contribute to revitalising our rural areas.

Read our feedback to the Commission’s public consultation on rural areas.

Public services and digital technologies: essential for dynamic rural areas

Rural areas have a lot to offer, including in a post-COVID-19 world where people might look for a closer proximity to nature, less pollution and locally produced food. These areas generally offer lower costs of living and housing, and a healthier environment. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis might have a positive impact on rural-urban linkages.

In many European countries, due to homeworking’s generalisation, many people have fled urban congestion to spend the lockdown in rural areas. However, among the main barriers preventing people to settle down in those less-populated zones remain accessibility to health, social, education, transport, cultural and other key public services, as well as generalised access to digital technologies.

Broadband and high-speed internet access are key for information, knowledge-transfer, collaboration and daily lives of farmers and rural communities. Digitalisation can also help to create shorter supply chains, one of the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy.

Young farmers and intergenerational solidarity in rural areas

Throughout the EU, the age pyramid is such that conversions to organic farming will not be enough to meet the objective of 25% organic farmland by 2030. This is mainly because current national policies on starting young farmers or transmission of a farm to a new farmer are not tailored to organic.

As keeping young farmers and/or attracting new players in rural areas is one of the biggest challenges, EU instruments such as the Organic Action Plan and the CAP should better support the transmission of organic farmland and young farmers starting in organic. Member States should establish legal and fiscal frameworks to incentivize the maintenance of organic farmland as organic when an organic farmer retires and transmits their farm to a young farmer. Moreover, Members States’ CAP Strategic Plans should prioritise young farmers willing to start as organic and ensure young farmers get an additional reward if setting-up in organic.

With help of the CAP second pillar, more efforts should be put into increasing intergenerational solidarity. Collective actions in rural areas should be further promoted through CAP instruments such as LEADER, cooperation measures and investments. Advisory services are critical to organic farming and rural development and should ensure equal rights and opportunities for all farmers and beneficiaries, including promoting equality between genders. Specific advisory units specializing on organic farming should encourage new farmers willing to start their organic farms. As underlined by the European Parliament in the Strategic Plans Regulation, Member States should allocate at least 30% of Farm Advisory Services’ (FAS) budget to climate and environmental objectives.

Creating synergies and revitalising rural areas: the success story of bio-districts

Bio-districts are a new rural development model based on preserving agricultural landscapes and biodiversity, cultural heritage and gastronomy, related to organic agriculture and food production. Creating bio-districts should be supported by policy instruments in all Member States.

What are bio-districts?
Bio-districts stem from a collaboration between farmers, citizens/consumers, local public administrations, as well as fair trade groups, national and regional parks, protected natural areas, commercial, touristic, and cultural enterprises, and social cultural and environmental associations who act according to the principles and methods of organic production and consumption. This tightly knit network is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to transforming the territory.

The first bio-district was launched in Italy in 2009 by the Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica (AIAD, the Italian Association for Organic Agriculture) in an area inside the National Park of the Cilento, Vallo di Diano and Alburni. After 3 years, the Cilento bio-district now includes 30 municipalities, 400 enterprises, 20 restaurants and 10 tourist establishments using local organic produce.

30 bio-districts are now operating in Italy alone. Other countries have also implemented bio-districts: Portugal, France, Austria, Switzerland, Spain. Countries such as Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Brazil, Tunisia, Morocco, Senegal, have started the process to set them up.

Bio-districts’ integrated approach
Bio-districts are an innovative instrument approach to sustainable development in which local authorities play an important role. Advantages in terms of sustainability include:

  • Environmental: A sustainable approach to managing the territory, local resources, renewable energy, and striving to use the principles of circular economy including reusing waste;
  • Economic: Employment young people and women increases, touristic activities in the area increase, and local and sustainable products are available at an affordable price;
  • Social: Valorising local traditions, improving the quality of life, employing the local population, smaller population’s decrease in rural areas, and highlighting quality of agri-food production and local livestock.

How can bio-districts help revitalise rural areas?

  • By helping face challenges in terms of access to land. For example, by giving a new lease of life to state-owned and uncultivated land, and implementing fairer relations in the supply chain;
  • By playing an active role in simplifying organic certification for organic farmers;
  • By exchanging different examples of bio-districts and sustainable agriculture at national, European and global level between actors of the bio-districts and among national and European institutions;
  • By developing environmentally conscious food production and consumption that benefits both farmers and the community. A bio-district includes forward-looking farmers who adopt ecological and ethical values combined with organic and agroecological practices;
  • In local communities, bio-districts support synergies within the supply chain, thus strengthening cooperation between farmers and other actors and supporting local economic development.
Legal framework

Ongoing processes

Since the Lisbon Treaty’s entry into force, the CAP falls under the ‘ordinary legislative procedure’. In June 2018, the European Commission presented proposals for a post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy. This proposal includes a regulation on the CAP strategic plans, a regulation on the single common market organisation and a horizontal regulation on the financing, managing and monitoring of the CAP. As of June 2020, the European Parliament and Council are currently defining their positions on the three texts before entering trilogue negotiations.

Legislative background

The Commission’s three CAP proposals include a new direction towards more subsidiarity, a performance-based delivery model and a new “Green Architecture”. This would give Member States more responsibility and flexibility designing their CAP Strategic Plans at national level.

Although the proposed Strategic Plans Regulation maintains the two-pillar architecture, it contains new elements. One of them is the ‘eco-scheme’, which is part of the green architecture and the first pillar. According to the Commission’s proposal, these schemes would voluntary for farmers but compulsory for Member States to implement.

Our position

IFOAM Organics Europe developed a long-term vision for the CAP post-2020 and a position paper on the Commission’s proposal for a CAP post-2020.

Our recommendations for the CAP post-2020:

  • In their CAP Strategic Plans, Member States should include a national target for organic land and relevant policy mixes to increase both production and demand for organic products;
  • Keep at least the same level of support for maintenance and conversion, in any case no less than in the 2014-2020 period (‘no backsliding’ principle);
  • Organic farming should be eligible for different eco-schemes (climate change mitigation, protection or improvement of water quality, soil restoration, protection of biodiversity, actions to enhance animal welfare);
  • Ambitious ringfencing of at least 30% for eco-schemes, increasing over the programming period;
  • Go beyond the ‘lost revenue’ logic to reward public goods and extend it to the second pillar;
  • Ensure independent and well-funded Farm Advisory Services, geared towards agroecology.
They are making it possible

The work of IFOAM Organics Europe on this topic is co-financed by the LIFE programme of the European Union, under the Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency (CINEA). This page only reflects the views of the authors and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. The CINEA is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.

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