Young Farmers have been given prime importance during the Presidency events bringing together Rural Development Directors from all the European member states to Malta. The events happened between Wednesday 22nd and Friday 24th March 2017.
On the 22nd, the Maltese delegation greeted our European counterparts and introduced them to the theme of events and obviously to Maltese culture. Thursday took the delegates to a more intensive schedule. An early info session coupled with workshops in the afternoon took place at the Corinthia San Ġorġ Hotel. Personally, I had an active role on the day as I chaired the workshop related to “young farmers and innovation”. For this reason, I jotted down the most salient points discussed in the morning.
To start of with, Mr. Raphael Scerri, Director General (Funds and Programmes Division) welcomed the distinguished guests from all around the EU for this informal meeting. The agenda is packed and puts under the spotlight the pressing issue of declining numbers of young farmers in the EU.
Soon after, Mr. Kenneth Scicluna, Head (Rural Development Programme), invited the attendees to a brief outlook to the Maltese Islands, and the agri-food industry. A detailed overview of agriculture in Malta was then described by Mr. Frankie Caruana who outlined the characteristics, being small holdings, land fragmentation, and the ageing farming population.
Mr. Mihael Dumitru, Deputy Director General at DG Agri focussed on supporting young farmers thought the CAP. Funding has become a complex issues because of the expertise it requires. Certainly we have opportunities but facilitation is necessary. Agriculture remains the main employer in the EU and an important contributor for the food chain. There is a growing trend to aspire to living in rural areas because of the healthy lifestyle and working ambitions. Young farmers want to work independently, they want to be disconnected from the urban society and live in nature. The scope of the young farmers measure has now been given a larger scope and a business perspective.
The Omnibus proposal has also been discussed as a reflection for the future. The modernisation and simplification of the CAP is the scope of this proposal and the Commission is looking into addressing the need for a wider scope of the CAP and the simplification of the funding process. Knowledge and innovation are key priorities for the future.
During the morning discussion, a number of questions have been put forward. These featured the scarcity of water, LEADER funds and operational programmes. Mr. Kenneth Scicluna intervened about the areas related to Malta. He explained that there has been a considerable interest in LEADER funds and that three local action groups covered the whole territory of Malta.
Mr. Dumitru commented about the tentative targets for young farmers. He outlined that these targets are quantitative but there is much more to it. It is important to see the qualitative aspects such as sustainability of the farms. Investment in water and the Junker plant is a priority for Europe and several Directorates are working together to use better the instruments there are at hand. Regarding the land consolidation issue, Mr. Dumitru, mentioned that there are EU member states that have experience in this and that these could be used as examples. The Spain and Finnish counterparts both commented about the regeneration of rural areas and the importance of young farmers Mr. Dumitru also emphasised that it is not just about farming but also carrying out other activities with a business approach. There is a genuine interest by the Commission to facilitate the generational aspects. Transfer of farms amongst different generation is not an easy task for many reasons. Mr. Dumitru said that the old and new generation might work together. One needs to be careful that the transfer is not a cosmetic one but a real one that establishes the new entrepreneurs into the already existing business. The funds will be directed to the active young farmer who is the decision maker of the farm.
Another presentation was delivered by Ms. Marie-Jose Zondag from ECORYS who shared with the delegates the outcomes of a Pilot Project about exchange schemes. Availability of land remains to be the largest obstacle. On a positive note, Malta is ranking highest in the use of the internet to obtain knowledge.
Mr. Alan Jagoe, a young farmer and current President of CEJA surprised the delegates by engaging everyone by means of an online feedback system. The opinions about young farmers and RDPs were instantly generated and shared. Young farmers have been deemed to be ambitious, innovative and dynamic. Great words that reflect the real soul of a young farmer!
Following this online quiz, an pictorial presentation was delivered by Mr. Jagoe reflecting about the situation revolving around young farmers in Europe. Training, education and innovation are deemed to be important criteria to classify as an active farmer. We are expecting young farmers to be up for the job, but need to ensure that there is someone running the farm while the young farmer is receiving training, or participating for an exchange away from his or her country. Collective actions through co-ops and stakeholders in the food chain are crucial to meet expectations. A sustainable farmer leads to a sustainable rural area. This is a strong message coming from the heart of a young farmer involved in the lobbying of the EU agri industry. The encouragement of the next generation should be a priority for all member states and the Commission.
Click here to view presentations and workshop material related to the Informal meeting of the Directors of Rural Development (March 2017).