Advocating for sustainable agriculture
The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) keeps subsidising harmful farming practices and providing only minimal funding to support sustainable farming.
The single, most dramatic cause for the loss of biodiversity, species and natural habitats in Europe is intensive agriculture.
In the past 40 years alone, we have suffered the loss of 57% of our farmland birds.
And public money fuels this destruction. The Common Agricultural Policy, worth almost €60 billion per year (40% of the EU budget); subsidises intensive agriculture indiscriminately.
The majority of CAP spending goes to “income support” for mega-farms: the more farmland they have, the more money they get. A whopping 80% of direct payments goes to only 20% of farmers. It gets worse: one third of direct payments go to only 1.5% of farmers. Much of the rest also funds intensive practices that harm biodiversity, climate, water, air and soils (only 7% goes to protecting the environment). A recent investigation in the New York Times found that there is a direct connection and relationship between where most CAP funds are spent and where most environmental destruction happens.
We are paying for a system which fuels the climate crisis and extinguishes nature and biodiversity rather than enhancing it.
The ecological crisis is actually a serious existential threat to farming: without pollinators, there is no food. Europe’s Environment Agency also estimates that under business as usual, climate breakdown will cause droughts that will devastate food production in Europe: by up to 50% in Southern countries such as Spain (EEA, 2019).
In October 2020, a majority of MEPs voted for a disastrous CAP for seven more years. Despite broad calls for a nature-friendly CAP, they voted against science, nature, and sustainable farming. They decided to side with big agri oligarchs over European citizens.
The Parliament’s CAP deal is so destructive, it makes the EU Green Deal virtually impossible to achieve. How can we have a real EU Green Deal when one third of the EU’s budget is spent on making the biodiversity and climate crisis worse? CAP renders the EU Green Deal an impotent mirage, smoke and mirrors rather than the concrete, urgent action we so desperately need.
The ball is now in the European Commission’s court. It has the constitutional right, and the democratic duty, to withdraw the CAP and start anew.
The new CAP that emerges from the previous one’s ashes should include the following principles:
#1 Space for nature – Science shows that if at least 10 percent of every farm in Europe was natural habitat – such as hedgerows, flower strips or ponds – then nature could come back. What’s more, it has even been shown to improve yields! This should be a basic requirement for receiving CAP subsidies. Find out more with our infographic on the matter.
#2 Money for nature – Until now, the EU and its member states have failed to provide the money that we need to save biodiversity. The Common Agricultural Policy is worth €60 billion. By investing a quarter of that for nature-friendly farming (€15 billion), we can support farmers’ incomes and protect nature simultaneously. It’s also crucial to stop spending money which destroys nature. Find out more in our infographic.
#3 Transition for nature – Farmers need help to transition out of the intensive agriculture model. The current money for doing nothing, called ‘direct payments’ do the opposite: maintaining the terribly destructive business as usual. These need to be replaced with funds that deliver on a transition to sustainable agriculture: for instance, conversion to organic farming, agro-ecology, diversification of production and into alternative sources of revenue.
Time is of the essence: The CAP reform, decided this year, will apply for 7 years. Next time around, in 2027, we simply will not have the luxury of reversing 7 more years of nature destruction. Tipping points will have been reached. Ecosystems will have vanished. That’s why we so desperately need space for nature, money for nature and a transition for nature, right now.
We have been engaged in advocating for a nature-friendly farming, and a sustainable farm subsidy system, for several decades. Here, you can find our latest briefings relating to EU policy on nature and farming.
Together with our partners, we have commissioned a wide variety of studies relating to CAP reform and agriculture’s relationship with nature in Europe, in order to inform our policy positions.
Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.