Family Farming and Market Access

Policy Round Table in Portugal

Confederação Nacional da Agricultura (CNA) hosted a Regional Policy Roundtable under The BOND Project on the topic ‘Family Farming and Market Access’, on 28-29 January 2020, in Coimbra, Portugal.

Over 40 participants were present. Several agricultural organisations were represented, namely CNA and affiliates, and similar European Organisations, as well as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the University of Coventry (BOND coordination) and BOND partners CCPV-COAG and SLG.

An independent agricultural policy analyst, Gérard Choplin, a PAC specialist on the EU Regions Committee, was also present for an exchange with the participants.

This initiative aimed to analyse the challenges Family Farming faces in accessing markets, and to build positions, reinforce cooperation and alliances between organisations, and strengthen collective action around commercial issues.

After initial presentations, the day began with a gamming session to break the ice and set a pleasant and more open space for discussion. ‘What Is Your Story?’ a card-based activity was delivered by Adélia Vilas Boas, from BOND partner CNA. This playful activity, developed by Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab, encourages players to use their visual literacy and oral communication skills to explore a topic in a fun, challenging, social activity. Participants create stories using the People, Context and Activity cards, and share their stories with other players. In this case, and entering the scope of the discussion ahead, participants shared stories around their farming experiences, struggles and aspirations.

Moving to the level of the discussion itself, the analysis was based on a more comprehensive ‘international level’ context, with an approach to the WTO and free trade agreements (FTAs) and their impacts; moving on to the ‘community level’ discussing the relocation of production vs. concentration in the European market. At the ‘local level’, the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy on sustainable food across the value chain, announced by the new European Commission under the ‘European Green Pact’, was also among the subjects debated by the participants.

Environmental issues and family farming, more sustainable production models and the relocation of food consumption were aspects considered during the climate change debate. Transversal was also the social and economic dimensions, with approaches to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and to labour, environmental and health policies in the European Union.

Having this context in consideration, participants converged on the analysis that the WTO, the proliferation of Free Trade Agreements and CAP are having devastating impacts in family farming in Europe. And for the multi-disciplinary and importance of family farming (recognised at high international level, e.g. United Nations Decade on Family Farming 2019-2028), these negative impacts rapidly extend to Europe’s unique landscapes, biodiversity, environment, culture, traditions and to the generality of the society, beyond farmers themselves.

With food quality of citizens strongly affected by ‘free’ trade, as the demand for quality parameters is reduced, also the environment is severely damaged by the increase of long-distance trade (especially by sea) without being subject to environmental impact studies.

At a time when Europe is presenting a ‘Green Pact’ and is talking about reducing polluting emissions with a view to achieving carbon neutrality, it is not coherent to continue to witness the unbridled negotiation of free trade agreements on a global level.

For small and medium-scale farmers and for family farming, the impacts of policies have been visible at several levels: producer prices are unsustainably low (e.g. in 2020 18 cents per kg of peaches in Spain); competition distortion (social, fiscal and environmental dumping); income collapse (the average farmer income being 50% lower than the average salary in other sectors); difficulties accessing markets; loss of employment; abandonment of farms (e.g. in Portugal, since 1989, every 1:33 minutes a farm closes); disaggregation of the social fabric and human desertification of rural territories, among others.

To reverse this path that is condemning European peasant agriculture, a priority in terms of action must be to place Food Sovereignty at the centre of policies, guaranteeing fair prices for production and making quality food, in proximity, accessible to consumers. ‘Without guaranteeing fair prices and fair income, there is no guarantee of defence for family farming’, said one of the participants.

One way to preserve the richness of the European food and production model, with its transversal benefits to the cultural, environmental, social and economic dimensions, will be through a strong CAP, with instruments for public regulation of production and markets, with a fair distribution of aid for those who produce, based on the principles of Food Sovereignty.

Proposals that emerged from the discussion included: the relocation of food systems in order to reduce transport and protect food systems and agriculture and not large agribusiness; prioritising local products in public procurement; introducing kilometre tax to differentiate products that cover long distances; guaranteed minimum prices; taxing products that do not respect European rules; transparency on the profit margins associated with each product and its distribution; adopting an anti-trust law to avoid up-stream concentration; ensuring the CAP is not subordinated to the EU competition law, according to article 42 of the EU Treaty; taking into account social aspects and guaranteeing decent conditions for agricultural workers.

In some cases, equal rules for all do not always mean justice, since not all start from the same condition and investment funds as is the example of small and medium scale farmers. Hence, it is also necessary to regulate the application of Investment Funds in Agriculture and to prohibit them, for example, to benefit from public aid.

In the context of the UN Decade on Family Farming, it was also considered that FAO should create spaces where the voice of family farmers can be heard, and the same should happen in the European Commission and the European Parliament.

This Regional Policy Roundtable allowed a collective reflection on the topic of trade and markets, and an opportunity to build proposals and move towards a common action plan and strategy. After two days of debate, The Coimbra Declaration ‘European family farms need collective action to improve their access to agriculture and food markets’, was delivered. It summarises the analyses of the participants, proposes a list of recommendations and the creation of a Working Group on Market Access for Family Farms at European level, bringing together the agricultural organisations present at the meeting.

This is certainly not a finished debate. As it is embodied at the ‘Coimbra Declaration’ that emerged from the meeting, participants agreed to continue the exchange, work towards proposals for a more sustainable, healthier and harmonious farming sector in Europe for the long term.

Strengthening Farmers through the creation of social capital

Training of Trainers

Following the Regional Policy Roundtable, a two-day session of Training of Trainers ‘Strengthening Farmers through the Creation of Social Capital’ was also held in Coimbra, on 30-31 January 2020.

An agenda was drawn after a consultation process to the potential participants, who answered a questionnaire with their areas of interest for the training and a self-evaluation of existing knowledge. It included sessions on ‘The organisation as a group: Self-confidence, Values and Leadership’ (1st day) and ‘Vision, Performance Assessment and Planning’ (2nd day).

Two days of work, sharing and enrichment, within the scope of the BOND Project, brought together a group of enthusiastic trainees who were provided with seeds to strengthen their organisations and the peasant movement.

With the objective of providing knowledge, tools and methods in diverse fields related to collective action and the capacity of farmer organisations to build strong relations internally and externally, this ToT session received a group of participants including farmers, leaders, academics and technicians all of them with interest and work related to Family Farming and with links to farmers’ organisations.

Along other participants mobilised by CNA and its affiliated organisations, BOND representatives Dora Cabaleiro (Galicia/Spain), Mireia Gonzalez (Andaluzia/Spain), Joaquim Pífano and José Miguel Fernandes, as well as Laura Tarrafa (as a trainer) took part in this ToT session of sharing and reflection.

The contents were taught by Guilherme Brady (FAO), MariaGrazia Rocchigiani (FAO) and Laura Tarrafa (CNA), who was trained by FAO team at the Training of Trainers organised by the BOND project in Cordoba, Spain (September 2018).

During the training sessions various exercises and dynamics were used to create great interaction between participants. Aiming to empower farmer leaders and representatives of the sector to build and develop effective and strong organisations, while also being able to train and increase impact in their own regions and areas of action, we may say it was a very successful event, by the positive evaluation made both by the intervening organisations and by the participants themselves.

Feedback received demonstrated an interest in repeating similar initiatives considered instrumental to consolidate and develop concepts of great importance for the performance of the national and European farmers associative movement.

With a view to providing fertile ground for seeds collected here, an individual action plan was developed by each participant in order to continue work in the vein of the organisations in different regions.