Changing Agriculture in Rural Europe
This is an introduction to a Roundtable on Changing Agriculture in Rural Europe, and part of a special feature on Rurality in Europe.
In this roundtable on “Changing Agriculture in Rural Europe,” EuropeNow wishes to convey a portrait of an agricultural Europe that shows its dynamism and adaptable capacity in the way it mirrors and incorporates the major concerns of our time and faces the historical legacies of past agricultural practices and policies. Agricultural policy has never been easy at the scale of Europe and consensus is rarely easily obtained. Just last October 22, the EU announced new regulations aiming at encouraging, through a system of bonuses, all farmers who engage in practices that respect the environment and protect biodiversity. With a final text expected sometimes in 2021 and a possible planned two-year transition period, the new law preconizes a scheme to reward the implementation of ecological strategies on farms, from organic growing, to more efficient rotation of cultures, or enhanced autonomy in feed provision, for example. It would become mandatory for member-states to commit twenty percent of their EU agricultural funding to this bonus system. Already an east-west rift has formed with countries like Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, or Latvia troubled that these budgetary obligations will limit their productivity and put them at a disadvantage opposite western countries like France that benefit from a more established agricultural sector.
The contributors selected to participate in this roundtable highlight some of these issues and practical solutions that are being tried in Europe’s rural areas. To first help us better understand and contextualize efforts to make agriculture greener in Europe, Common Agricultural Policy (PAC) expert Wyn Grant provides a valuable overview of “the policy that has arguably most greatly influenced European farmers’ decisions” in the history of the EU, focusing on the program’s main objectives, inner workings, and successive reforms, as well as what is to be expected in the future as Europe has pledged to address issues of climate change and biodiversity loss. Elizabeth Jones, a historian of rural Germany, confronts the issue of sustainability heads-on in her article on initiatives emerging in different places in Europe at the intersection of agroecology and food sovereignty that “bridge the dichotomies of urban-rural, center-periphery, north-south, west-east, and modern-backward that have divided the continent for more than two centuries.” Her focus on baking projects and the revival of old grains underscores the vitality and relevance of local communities and the non-profit sector as key actors in the debate and calls to mind that policy implementation and grassroot actions can effectively work in concert. The shift from conventional growing practices to regenerative agriculture, which she defines as “farming systems that work with nature’s processes of self-renewal and where year-to-year yield consistency takes priority over extracting the maximum harvest in a given season” is echoed and further discussed by anthropologist Evy Vourlides in her ethnographic study on permaculture undertakings in the rural Peloponnese region of Greece. Vourlides examines the “regenerative design” underpinnings of rural development endeavors that rest on a holistic and integrative understanding of environment, resources, and societies. Her work also emphasizes the importance of methodological variety in researching rural Europe and the value of personal embeddedness to fully grasp how “regenerative design projects harness the energy around them that they recognize within different forms of life.” Her depiction of how one project in particular has taken shape and is being carried out as to foster symbiotic relationships between communities, natural resources, animals, and plants demonstrates the extent to which the human and non-human must be considered inseparably in the circulation of “life-giving substances” and “worldmaking” projects that validate diverse economic expressions in twenty-first century agriculture.
Finally, Arielle and Michaela DeSoucey bring our attention to the ways in which regional agricultural traditions are contingent on political regimes and economic ideology at the national scale. The story they tell about the South Moravian wine industry takes us from the experience of winemakers behind the Iron Curtain to the Velvet Revolution that gave an impetus to Czech viticulturalists to reinvent their craft around the idea of terroir once certain barriers to free enterprise had been lifted, especially those negatively impacting the quality of their production and trading range. The article by DeSoucey and DeSoucey allows us to discover a region not often associated with good wine and casts light on the significance of international networks of industry-specific expert-consultants. It also brings to the fore the usefulness of collaborative relationships within an intersectorial ecosystem where property regimes, growers, sommeliers, the business and the education sectors, EU directives, and new technologies (for example in organic and biodynamic agriculture) all come together to create new opportunities for a region that long struggled to make a place for itself on global wine markets. The four contributions in this roundtable are but a few examples of the changing face of agriculture in Europe and of the ways in which different regions and increasingly plural and multi-scalar actors have embraced the challenges of the twenty-first century in attempts to ally profitable production with quality and environmental and social justice concerns.
Hélène B. Ducros is a human geographer (PhD University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). She studies lived space, place-making, attachment to place, and landscape change and perception. Her research has inquired into rural transformations and rural-urban dynamics through an understanding of heritage preservation. Her latest publications appear in The Routledge Handbook of Place (2020), where she looks at the intersection of public art and memory of place and in Les labels dans le domaine du patrimoine culturel et naturel (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2020), where she examines transnational networks of rural communities through place-based labelization. At CES, she chairs the Critical European Studies Research Network (@CESCritEuro) and the EuropeNow Campus and Research Editorial Committees.
Published on November 10, 2020.