Farmers are a greying population. More than half of our farmers will retire within 10 years, while only 7% are under 35. Many senior farmers have no successors in their family, and have no identified successor outside of it.
The question of who is going to be the next generation of farmers is a very pressing one. Who will grow our food? Who will sustain rural economies and communities? Who will maintain open landscapes for everybody to enjoy?
There is also a major challenge in ensuring both the continuity and the necessary evolutions between the generations of farmers. How to avoid losing preciously developed soil quality and know-how held by the current generation of passionate farmers? And how to allow new entrants to develop more agroecological forms of farming?
Our organisation approaches these challenges in a number of ways:
- training and advising young farmers and future farmers,
- acquiring farms to put them at the disposal of new entrants, particularly newcomers, on favourable terms,
- advocating for the preservation of existing farms and their transfer to a new generation,
- advocating for better support mechanisms to new entrants and progressive entry into farming.
Managing land as commons
Land is predominantly under individual ownership. Landowners (both private and public) are granted very significant, sometimes absolute, rights on their property, which are often used at the expense of tenant farmers, and other land users: neighbours, local residents, consumers, local authorities, hikers, etc.
We strongly believe that everybody can and should have a voice in defining how land is used and managed, as well as its agricultural orientations. From the local to European levels, citizens and local communities can participate in planning and managing land use, together with farmers, farming institutions, local authorities and others.
Should a piece of land be used for farming or for development? How to organise land use to meet the need for local, high quality food? How to ensure farming practices respect the regenerative capacity of the soil? How do we organise human activities to preserve a balance between urban and rural areas? How much do we, as a society, want to capitalise value in the land, through our tax systems, inheritance laws, subsidies and other mechanisms?
For us, managing land as a commons means finding a better balance between the needs and capacities of landowners, farmers and other users of the land. Our approaches take into consideration the central concern of preserving farmland for current and future generations, and ensuring that the vital contribution of the land towards the quality of our water, soil and ecosystems is respected. Managing land as a commons also means directly engaging consumers, local communities and other land users in the way farmland is used and managed, while respecting farmers’ autonomy.
We want to experiment with various ways of managing land as commons:
- freeing land from the sales market and holding it in perpetuity for the benefit of agroecological farmers,
- supporting and developing various tenure regimes that re-balance users’ rights and ownership rights: leasehold, environmental leases and stewardship agreements, common lands
- providing tools for local communities to directly engage with and support agroecological projects, through donations, ethical investment or volunteering,
- collaborating with public and private landowners, who wish to develop better use and governance of their land.
All this is part of a much broader transition aimed at restoring living, community-connected ways of farming, rural life and co-sufficient economy.