Forest owners for a sustainable land use policy
Forestry covers almost as much land as agriculture – but only 3% of the CAP budget is earmarked for forests. One would think that this imbalance would make forest owners long-standing critics of the CAP. Not so. For one thing, many forests are owned by the government, and governments won’t lobby against their own policy. More importantly, many forest owners also happen to be farmers, and the more powerful agricultural lobby has managed excessively well to subdue its smaller sibling in this close relationship.
Certainly, forest owners suggested spending a little more money on them (see this paper from 2005), but they did not pick a fight. Now, the leading federation of forest owners appears to have concluded that the stakes are worth taking a stronger stance. They contributed a text to reformthecap.eu that can be summarized as follows:
The current CAP has focused on farm-level subsidies that can be seen as a distortion of internal competition. In this form, agricultural subsidies are considered ineffective and they should be focused more at the research level instead of being given directly to the farmers. The current CAP should be reshaped to spend money in more efficient ways.
Forestry contributes to biodiversity, clean water, fresh air and soil stability. It also helps to mitigate climate change and natural disasters, and it provides leisure services. However, forest owners do not receive significant subsidies for these services. Only around €8 billion have been made available from the Community budget for forestry measures in the period 2007-2013. The major part of the forestry measures aim at improving and enhancing the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sectors in general. Some additional forestry actions concentrate on the quality of rural life or the production of renewable energy.
Given the extent to which forests substantially contribute towards meeting new challenges like climate change, renewable energies, water management and biodiversity, clearly defined and structured support should be provided by public authorities. The major requirements are:
- Increase the level of compensation for forest owners when they enter into any Rural Development scheme. In particular, compensation should be raised for afforestation, Nature 2000 and restoration of forest potential.
- Improve the existing forest fire prevention schemes to enhance climate change mitigation and adaptation.
- Make more funding available for active water management by forest owners under the Rural Development scheme.
- Establish support schemes for adding value to the local wood supply chain – this can be done by promoting local innovative woodworking industries and district heating
- Support the establishment of forest owner cooperatives, especially in member states with a very weak tradition of this type of institution.
- Limit the administrative burden and simplify the reporting obligations under the Rural Development schemes in order to increase the number of applications.
To the extent that the chances for moving from an agricultural policy to a genuine sustainable land-use policy improve, we can expect an even stronger sundering of farm and forest interests. This is another sign – after the European Landowner Organisation’s joint position paper with BirdLife (see comments by Valentin Zahrnt and Jack Thurston) – that the hard-line farm lobby is becoming increasingly isolated.