NEW insights into mountain farming in the European Union are outlined by the European Commission in a document launched by Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel at a conference in Austria.
She said in terms of farming and food, some great products are made in mountain areas. Some of these have built strong brands. Lots of mountain cheeses fall into this category.
High altitude, however, makes farming more difficult. So do steep slopes, in various ways. Remoteness is another key issue in many cases. And many mountain areas are potentially more vulnerable than others to problems caused by climate change.
Ms Fischer Boel said structural change seems to have moved a bit faster in mountain areas than in non-disadvantaged areas, in terms of both farm size and productivity per land unit. On the other hand, there’s no evidence at this stage that there’s a greater risk of land abandonment in mountain areas than elsewhere. In fact, a recent study by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre showed that in France, Poland and Spain, the greatest risk of land abandonment is in non-mountain areas.
Ms Fischer Boel said there are a lot of rural development measures available which can help mountain areas.
Some member states really make a big effort to use the policy tools available as skilfully as possible to help the mountain areas in their territory. They use a range of tools from the box – not just the “old favourites” like payments for Less Favoured Areas, but also support for innovation and new types of rural business. They target support effectively, and they try to make sure that it complements other policies – regional policy, for example.
Ms Fischer Boel said there is a future for mountain areas in the CAP, the agri-food sector and in the European Union.
In terms of policy, there has been a fear that mountain areas will be pushed to the edges of the debate. But, in the debate about the CAP after 2013, things don’t have to be that way.
This year’s series of conferences about mountain areas and mountain farming have strongly raised the profile of this issue.
Ms Fischer Boel said the conversation about the future of the CAP is well under way. And the mountains are no longer quietly standing on the edge of it. They have found a strong voice in the political arena.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved