Cheap food policies underpinning farm subsidies encourage the systematic exploitation of migrant labourers in European agriculture, a leading expert claims in a new report.
rofessor Lee-Ann Sutherland from the well-respected James Hutton Institute in Scotland highlights the “major social justice issues” embedded in farming in the EU.
“The CAP currently occupies about one third of the EU Budget amounting to some €386.6bn over the 2021-27 period. The ‘sole holders’ and ‘farm managers’ who receive these subsidies are predominantly older, white men,” Prof Sutherland writes.
“With the current focus on area-based payments, recipients include corporations and religious organisations — similarly run by older white men.
“In supporting existing farm structures and emphasising sole holders, EU subsidies reify the huge gender imbalances and lack of ethnic and racial diversity amongst agricultural landowners in Europe.
“In addition, the ‘cheap food’ policies underpinning farm subsidies encourage the systematic exploitation of the one ethnically and racially diverse cohort working European agriculture — migrant labour.
Prof Sutherland says the “overwhelming whiteness of European farmers remains undocumented and therefore unchallenged.
“It also stands in stark contrast to the characteristics of the non-family agricultural workforce, particularly in the fruit and vegetable sector, which is strongly characterised by seasonal migrants.”
The land use expert also has a different take on “the apparent shortage” of young people in farming.
“I argue that the problem is actually about access to farming as a profession, rather than the age structure of the sector,” she writes.
“Establishing new farms is not a problem purely faced by young people, nor is the age structure of farming the only demographic feature of the sector which is problematic.
“The gender, race and ethnicity of EU farmers and farm workers are all widely unreflective of European populations as a whole.”
Prof Sutherland argues that the perceived need to ‘persuade’ young people to begin farming is also a misnomer.
“There is very little evidence of a shortage of young people interested in farming, particularly in the wake of the Covid pandemic where access to green space and rural living rose in popularity,” she says.
“Instead, the research suggests that there is an abundance of young people interested in farming who do not feel able to do so, largely for financial reasons.
“That there are newcomers at all — and there clearly are a substantial cohort, often pursuing ‘alternative’ approaches to farming — is a testament to the appeal of the sector.”
Prof Sutherland highlights the importance in distinguishing newcomers from young farmers.
“The EC rhetoric is now clearly focused on young people — generational renewal and young farmers — rather than newcomers per se. This itself is problematic, as the research shows that new entrants — regardless of age — tend to be more innovative than established farmers or their successors.”
She takes aim at academia’s role in “reifying existing farming demographics.
“We have played along with the fallacy of the ‘sole holder’ because it suited our research needs. Including multiple household members as decision-makers in research processes is incredibly messy and time-consuming.”