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Virtual land grabs and climate change

  • Tags: EU

EU Reporter | Friday, May 14, 2010

Nicolas J White

Preparations are already underway for the next Common Agricultural Policy set to coincide with the EU’s long term budget in 2014. Calls for a greener approach will likely encounter strong support given the 2004 reform of the payment scheme that put strict limits on the amount of harmful fertilisers that can be used in certain areas.

It is not unreasonable to imagine that the next CAP will place a significant emphasis on organic farming and biofuel production. However, a new report released this week, criticises the EU for engaging in what it calls a ‘virtual land grab’, citing the fact that the EU is a net importer of all commodities with the exception of wheat and coarse grain. As a result, around 35 million hectares of land outside the EU are used solely for the production of food destined for the EU.

A focus on biofuel production and organic farming might not have the desired effect if included in the next CAP however. According to the OPERA report, more intensive and productive farming is required to reduce the amount of land used for the EU’s food production outside its borders. While the report focusses on the political implications of what it terms the ‘virtual land grab’, a reduction in yields caused by subsidising organic farming would simply shift production to other parts of the world such as Brazil, where climate campaigners are outraged at the destruction of the rainforest to make way for soy bean and biofuel production.

Indeed, the report states that ‘expanding the acreage of organically farmed land to 20% would increase virtual land importation by almost 30%. And policies to achieve the EU’s 10% biofuel objective would also increase the rate of land-grabs’. Perhaps the EU would be better of withdrawing its subsidies in order to protect the climate.

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