Subsistence Farming in Africa. An area partularly hard hit by the EU's CAP policies.
In one of those all too frequent moments in political life, when irony intrudes upon reality, EU Chief Negotiator Michael Barnier’s recent statement that the ‘EU wants legal assurance Britain won't lower environmental standards after Brexit’ caused a wry smile to creep across my face! It was one of those statements like ‘The EU has given us clean beaches’ which is regularly trotted out in the social media whenever the environment and the EU are mentioned together. Ironic because Barnier’s attempts to paint the EU green is a million miles from the the truth. In fact, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been the main driving force behind the widespread depletion of species and habitats across EU states, but the UK in particular has suffered particularly badly. Since it was introduced in 1962, the CAP has gone through various structural manifestations but at each stage, the underlying philosophy and motivation has been to see increased production across the agricultural sector and thus increase profits. This emphasis on production has driven the wholesale depletion of habitats with the inevitable decline in animal, bird, insect and plants species.
Most people of a certain age will remember the really dark days of the 70‘s and 80‘s when the CAP was taking up 79% of the EU’s budget and farmers were being subsidized to basically produce far more than the market could support. With the obscene spectacle of perfect produce like Tomatoes, Olives and Fruit being ploughed back into the earth. At the same time we remember Beef and Cereal mountains, Wine and Milk lakes , warehouses piled to the rafters with dairy produce. Basically, the EU was driving an insane agricultural policy where farmers were being paid through generous subsidies, to increase their yield, bring more and more land into production, and as far as protecting wildlife and natural habitats were concerned, the devil could take the hindmost!
Although these obscene excesses have been less evident this century and the CAP budget has fallen to under 50%, the reality is, farmers and landowners are still receiving generous EU subsidies to over produce with serious ecological consequences. Not least in areas like sheep production where the uplands are overstocked, causing a variety of problems. Not least the serious consequences of leaving the grazing environments as virtually lifeless ecological deserts. Depleted of the natural species which would soon colonize a hillside or valley floor given the opportunity. Without the ovine ‘desert makers’ , more diverse ecosystems would quickly take hold. Trees, wildflowers, shrubs and grasses would return; soon to be followed by birds, mammals, insects and reptiles. However, as thing stand, it is far more profitable to overstock the uplands with sheep than diversify into a more sustainable area of agriculture.
Another consequence of EU sponsored over production and what environmental writer, George Monbiot calls ‘the sheep wrecking of our hillsides’ has been the flooding which now regularly occurs in the UK and across the EU states, when denuded hillsides which were once naturally knitted together by trees and shrubs, are now bare slopes where water run off and erosion triggers flooding in the valleys.
The EU’s sponsored destruction of natural habitats in the UK is jaw dropping when you consider the statistics. More than one in 10 wildlife species are threatened with extinction and the numbers of the nation’s most endangered creatures have plummeted by two-thirds since 1970. 56% of species have declined between 1970 and 2013, and 53% between 2002 and 2013. Since the UK’s EU membership, insects and other invertebrates, which make up 98% of all animal species, have seen a devastating decline with a 59% reduction in numbers.
From Voles to Hedgehogs; Great Crested Newts to Curlews, the CAP sponsored transformation of the British countryside from diverse ecosystems to agricultural factories has seen the British countryside transformed into a killing fields. Where agri barons prosper at the expense of environmental protection.
Hedgehog numbers have declined from over 30 million to less than 1 million today, due mainly to loss of habitat.
About 75% of the UK’s landscape is classed as agricultural, with 40% consisting of arable fields and grasslands. As a result of CAP policies, much of these fields and grasslands have been subjected to wholesale ‘improving’. Ponds and wetlands drained, hedgerows grubbed, up; copses and spinneys cut down, tracks torn out of hillsides.It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that a reduction in natural habitats = a reduction in species. On top of the destruction of habitat is the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides. Again, all part of the production verses protection philosophy of the EU.
On top of these environmental factors in the UK and EU states is a little known side effect of the CAP which is impacting on the third world. The EU’s £30billion CAP budget allows it dump much of its subsidized produce on impoverished African states where poor farmers just cannot compete economically with rich, subsidized EU producers. EU sugar beet farmers for example receive CAP subsidies which are three times higher than the global market price. What we are seeing is buyers in African states buying cheap EU sugar at the expense of local producers. A country like Mozambique, one of the poorest countries on earth, has lost over £100m because of EU subsidized dumping.
In areas like Cereals, fruit and vegetables, even in chicken production, poor countries like Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, Swaziland and Mali are seeing their economies bludgeoned by the EU’s dumping of its subsidized produce. In Ghana and Senegal, chicken farmers have virtually disappeared. Unable to compete with the EU imports which are over 50% cheaper than what local farmers can achieve.Not content with this uneven playing field, the EU is trying to force African countries into a free trade deal which given its advantage in the market and the fact that as a continent, Africa imports 80% of its food, would further decimate the domestic market in these poor countries and further pad out the wallets of rich EU producers.
In short, whilst British colonialism and exploitation of ‘the dark continent’ may be a thing of the past, for the EU it is only part and parcel of its ultra capitalist philosophy. A philosophy which exploits the natural environment and vulnerable people with impunity. All in the name of profit. So, next time you hear some EU apparatchik talking about environmental protection, think hard on those East Anglian cereal prairies, those meadows once alive with wild flowers now waving with yellow rape and think of the African subsistence farmer.