Influencing Policy

Working on policy, and in particular the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU (CAP) has been a focus for MCNC partners, and in particular Trashumancia y Naturaleza, as shown through the Case Study below.


Lessons Learnt
Use Emotive Messaging

Messages should be scientifically and technically well founded but also they should appeal to people´s emotions eg, by using easy slogans such as “healthy food, healthy environment, healthy people”, communicating that production growth should never be at the expense of the health and future of the people in rural communities.

Decode The CAP

It is important to “decode” the CAP and make it understandable. When faced with the complexity of the CAP the best strategy is to ask simple questions to expose its inefficiency and contradictions.

'Bottom-Up' Design

Elaborating solid economic arguments to support cultural practices, such as extensive grazing and mobile pastoralism, as the driver of a new economic model based on sustainability. The proposed CAP for the next period should supports the provision of ecosystems services and public goods. This should be funded through outcome-based measures and designed ‘bottom-up’. In this sense, dismantling and exposing the fallacies of the current CAP rhetoric is essential (see our section on Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Our Approach).

Policy, and specifically the CAP, is one of the most influential factors on pastoralism and agrosilvopastoral ecosystems in the EU. While the Nature Directives tend to favour them, the CAP mainly supports an industrial export-oriented production model applied to agriculture. This has triggered simultaneous processes of intensification and land abandonment, resulting in pollution, resource overuse and biodiversity decline. Traditional small farming has being progressively displaced by this intensive model, and the number of small farms has been dramatically reduced (2,5 millions disappeared in the EU in the period 2003-2010).

As it is a hugely influential EU policy and there is a risk that it will be followed or to some extent copied in other countries in the Mediterranean, it is very important to work to improve it so that it supports traditional farming and cultural practices, such as mobile pastoralism.

Mediterranean wood pastures in the CAP and Nature regulations are a particular case in point. In previous CAP periods, the EU rules identified ‘pasture’ with ‘grass’ and other herbaceous plants, considering trees and shrubs as ‘unwanted vegetation’, and preventing semi-natural pastures (the most common in the Mediterranean areas) with these types of vegetation from receiving CAP support in some Member States.

The current CAP Regulation definition of “permanent grassland and pastures” include other species such as shrubs and/or trees which can be grazed but still requires herbaceous forage to be predominant, and leaves Member States to decide what exceptions to this rule may be allowed in order to receive CAP payments, or “land which can be grazed and which forms part of established local practices”.

As a result, this new CAP regulation creates the possibility for valuable wooded pasture systems to receive direct payments, which would benefit an important part of the Mediterranean pastures in the EU (often located in marginal areas). However, some Member States adopt a restrictive interpretation of the new rules, arguing that they need to apply European Commission “financial corrections” (i.e. budget cuts), prioritizing economic criteria over agronomic or environmental arguments. This can create dramatic contrasts in the way different countries treat common grazing.

They use the argument that where wooded pasture has more than 100 trees per hectare, it will be ineligible for payments, as the EC considers these areas to be “non grazeable”. This rationale contradicts not only clear agronomic and environmental arguments but also several other EU policies such as climate change and biodiversity. For example in the Habitats Directive some types of Mediterranean wood pastures are listed in Annex 1 and so are subject of protection.

The implementation of the permanent pasture rule can also have knock-on effects on some traditional practices, such as transhumance, a traditional, cultural practice in the Mediterranean, where Spain is paradigmatic. Despite transhumance being the most efficient livestock farming system in terms of use of forage resources, water and energy, with an outstanding contribution to sustainability, it has no direct support or even recognition in the CAP. Thus transhumance is seriously threatened in the EU.  The inclusion or exclusion of wooded pastures from receiving subsidies will have immediate repercussions for transhumant herders, so the approach adopted in applying the new CAP rules could be a turning point for them or the coup de grâce.

Nature Regulations:

The main EU policies for biodiversity protection stem from the Birds Directive[1] and the Habitats Directive[2] Together they aim to protect habitats and species in a favourable conservation status to ensure their viability in the long term.

The EU Biodiversity Strategy aims to conserve Natura 2000 Habitats and to restore ecosystems and their services, including wood pastures.

Member States are required to designate core sites for their protection. The use of management plans is recommended as a tool for setting objectives and measures in Natura 2000 areas.

However, according to the latest data at EU level, in none of the main groups of habitats and species protected by the Natura 2000 network was more than 50% of the EU resource in favourable conservation status, and clear deficiencies exist in the conservation and management of these protected areas. Also the mid-term review of the EU Biodiversity Strategy indicates that the most serious failures of Natura 2000 are insufficient financial support, and in various aspects of governance (poor information base and lack of management measures and inadequate community participation; poor coordination with the sectorial policies that cause biodiversity decline).

Also the European Commission reports have found the abandonment of extensive pastoral systems to be a major threat to the objectives of Natura 2000.


Figure 1: Contradictions of the CAP (Spain)

In the top photo (Córdoba Province), poor management practices in an olive grove cause severe soil erosion, a common problem in Spain which contributes to climate change. The bottom photo (Salamanca Province),  shows a High Nature Value communal wooded pasture which is a protected Natura 2000 habitat, representing a valuable asset in the fight against climate change. The olive grove can receive both CAP payments (direct and greening) automatically, and does not need to comply with ‘greening’ conditions; the wooded pasture has ‘too many trees’ to be eligible for these payments (neither basic nor greening) under the CAP’s present rules.

Our approach

Our approach is to strengthen social actors and increase demands from civil society for an agriculture policy that supports sustainable agriculture and providers of public services (“public money for public services”).

Networking and alliances are central in our approach on Policy work, from local to international level.

Our approach also includes:

  • Lobbying for new national framework legislation on extensive grazing and mobile pastoralism, as well as reaffirming and updating the value of the existing transhumance infrastructure. It is also critically important to disseminate information on the role of extensive grazing and transhumance as a ‘retroinnovation’ tool to tackle environmental problems (such as forest fires) and create a sustainable rural economy (as a provider of healthy food, attractive landscapes, tourist opportunities..).
  • Encourage public participation in Natura 2000 plans. Often, the conservation status and the biodiversity values that gave rise to Natura 2000 area designation are the result of the local communities traditional management, based on traditional agro ecological knowledge (one of the most threatened ecosystem services in the short term). Although the degree of citizen’s involvement varies across the countries, currently there are no guidelines or legislation for it to inform the policy process.
  • Empowering local communities to share responsibility for their homeland management is not only an exercise of democracy but also offers a very cost effective alternative system for Natura 2000 implementation. Traditional cultural practices, such as pastoral systems, are organized local entities with genuine local knowledge and proven on the ground experience, where even small investments and effort could produce significant positive results for biodiversity protection. This could also contribute to achieving the goals of the UN Biodiversity Convention.
  • Forming or consolidating alliances with other civil society groups at all possible levels (national, European and international) implementing a common strategy and capitalizing from synergies to push for a radical agricultural and rural community policy change.
  • To develop a twofold communication strategy which has as its principle targets the general public, in order to stimulate a wide and open debate on what CAP we want; and public authorities, demanding a legitimate CAP that integrates environmental policy and primarily addresses the economy for the common good. This would be coordinated with a simultaneous lobbying strategy.

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