Farmer NGOs critical of Latvia's green agricultural policy plans

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Environmental and non-governmental organizations criticize the strategic plan of the Latvian Common Agricultural Policy (KPL), saying that the proposed plan will not contribute to climate change mitigation, Latvian Radio reported December 1.

The European Union's total investment for direct payments to Latvian farmers and rural development over the period from 2021 to 2027 is approximately EUR 3.4 billion. Although direct payments have increased by up to 44%, Latvia's farmers will only have funding increased by 11% due to the low level of state co-financing and the reduction of rural development money.

Requirements and results

Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture Rigonda Krieviņa said that, in line with the European Union's settings, agricultural aid in the Member States should be directed towards environmental, economic, and social objectives. Therefore, the last two years have produced a national strategic plan for the common agricultural policy.

"For economic target measures, we have planned 42% of our total money, for environmental measures they are 48% and for social purposes, which includes education, science, and innovation, there we have projected 8.8% of funding. We have developed 66 measures in our strategic plan, together with the farmers' association," Krieviņa said.

The strategy also provides for more support for agricultural practices that contribute to climate change mitigation, environmental improvement, and the preservation of biodiversity. €438 million is dedicated to voluntary activities called eco-schemes.

“When claiming additional payments, the farmer must be aware of whether he will maintain clean water, soil, air or reduce CO2 emissions with his or her activities. [..] It will also have very rigid supervision, and the European Commission will follow up on financial use. If these objectives are not achieved, funding adjustments will also be made," Krieviņa said.

Association: Environmental benefits are insignificant

Gustava Norkārklis, the head of the Latvian organic farming association, estimated that support for eco-systems, as if planned to achieve Europe's “green” objectives, is more focused on strengthening large conventional farms than on the development of organic farming.

“It will benefit the environment very little, but a lot of money will be spent. I have been critical of these eco-schemes. For example, one of the aid measures is where a farmer simply needs to carry out soil tests and report on the fertilizer plans once every 5 years, and he will receive a payment of aid for these years. But it is simply a normal farming practice. I do not see what exactly the significant improvements and benefits of this are for the environment and biodiversity. And there is significant funding – over 100 million,” Norkārklis pointed out.

The European Commission's “Farm to Fork” strategy aims to increase the share of organic farmland in the EU to 25% by 2030, while reducing pesticide use by 50%. Norkārklis estimated that the funding for farmers of biological practice would remain nearly the same level, contrary to the increase made by the Ministry.

“Organic farming funding is now divided into several parts. In the past, there was only one payment for organic farming – a clear envelope and a budget. Now its money is divided into eco-schemes and rural development. And it can be said that there is now another payment available to organic farmers, but that's the same old green payment. By replacing the title of an aid measure, it is not exactly right to say that more funding has been given to organic farmers. We will encourage the European Commission to evaluate the strategic plan for our Common Agricultural Policy and to indicate where we see concerns about it,” Norkārklis said.

Inequalities among sectors

On the other hand, the foreign-policy specialist of the Farmers Saeima, Valters Zelčs, said that the organization representing mostly conventional farmers also sees many shortcomings in the national strategy, such as unequal aid payments between sectors and production methods.

“The ministry has created a payment calculator where owners can enter their farm data individually and see what the increase or decrease in aid will be against the previous period. [..] Around 20% of the farms will remain at the existing level of support, and 20% could receive a 10-20% increase in aid payments. But 50-60% of the owners will experience a reduction by around 20% in the aid payment [continuing to operate as it has been].

“And the Ministry also stresses that we cannot do things how we have done so far. We need to do more. But the most significant problem is that the ministry hasn't predicted that, for example, in crop production, all farmers could do more. Even if we wanted all crop farms to become so “green” tomorrow and put in place all these eco-schemes practices, there would be enough money for only 25% of farmers,” Zelčs said.

In the view of the “Farmers Saeima”, farmers in the biological sector will have an increase in payments, but the National Plan for the Common Agricultural Policy lacks the objectives to be achieved.

“For example, there is a very large increase in payments in the biosector – over 100 million. But we don't see how we can build productivity or fight that, for example, organic milk is produced, but passed on as conventional milk. In particular, it appears that the consumer pays the farmer, through taxes, to produce the bio dairy, which results in mixing in a single tank with conventional milk. Consequently, we do not see any strategy or logic in how these payments are distributed. We do not see an impact assessment carried out in Latvia for all this strategic plan,” Zelčs said.

Emphasis on planning and reporting

 Andrejs Briedis, manager of the Latvian Fund for Nature, believes that eco-systems developed by the Ministry should have basic requirements in order to apply for aid at all, rather than providing them as innovative environmentally friendly solutions.

“At this point, we have no national objectives, because what we can find out by reading the strategic plan is how much money and on which hectares we will spend. We cannot say that its eco-schemes are all bad, but mostly the farmers do not have to change anything or very little. In fact, the emphasis is on better planning and accounting to the country for what farmers do.

But if we go back to the objectives of the Green Course: reducing the use of minerals and pesticides, then the eco-systems do not foresee anything like this. Then what strategy are we talking about here? Unfortunately, it must be concluded that the national strategy is to take all the money as much as possible,” said Briedis.

The Environment Advisory Council has also analyzed the national strategy of the Common Agricultural Policy and has also concluded that the aid does not focus on more environmentally friendly agriculture. The head of the Council, Juris Jātnieks, pointed out that the strategic plan of Latvia does not increase funding or compensation for forest owners whose territories are located in specially protected nature areas.

Following the settings of the new Common Agricultural Policy Strategy, support is planned to be granted from 2023. The Ministry of Agriculture is currently compiling proposals for public consultations and will submit the national plan to the European Commission for evaluation by the end of the year. Until the start of the new period in 2023, agriculture shall have transitional support conditions.

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