On a chilly morning in Latvia, I visited the Ministry of Agriculture, as part of the Press Trip organised by DG Agri in March 2012. Dr. Laimdota Staujuma, the present Minister for Agriculture was waiting for us at the boardroom where she greeted us before starting the briefing.
The aim of the visit was to shed light on the equitable direct payments support between EU member states. The Baltic states are among those who received the lowest percentages of direct payments per hectare compared to other member states. There are a number of factors that have led to this and at the moment a lot of discussions are taking place to redistribute the funds more fairly throughout the next programming period (2007 – 2013). No member state wishes to have funds reduced from the whole package that it has been granted in previous years, and many justifications will need to reach the Commission in order to have an equitable share of agri funds for each and every member state.
During the Minister’s briefing, a lot of emphasis was made on direct payments rather rural development funds. It is being argued that Latvia has particular situations that need to be given attention by the Commission. The livelihood of rural areas is a crucial issue. Since agricultural land is not as profitable as it used to be, vast areas are being abandoned and farmers are seeking other jobs in the urban areas of Latvia.
During that same day several farms and agricultural enterprises were visited. I was clear that the sector needs financial support to move forward, apart from the fact that certain aspects such as allocation of land and access to capital need to be addressed beforehand.