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Procedure : 2008/2219(INI)
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Document selected : A6-0086/2009

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PV 12/03/2009 - 7.6
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Thursday, 12 March 2009 - Strasbourg
Deterioration of agricultural land in the EU

European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2009 on the challenge of deterioration of agricultural land in the EU and in particular in southern Europe: the response through EU agricultural policy instruments (2008/2219(INI))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa, adopted in 1994, and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in 1992,

–   having regard to its position, adopted at first reading on 14 November 2007 with a view to the adoption of a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the protection of soil(1),

–   having regard to its resolution of 9 October 2008 on addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union(2),

–   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (A6-0086/2009),

A.   whereas farming is an economic sector that is heavily dependent on natural phenomena and which, at the same time, offers extensive scope for intervention,

B.   whereas agriculture is the best means of preventing soil deterioration, and whereas this calls for a reasoned strategy that will help maintain this activity,

C.   having regard to the role EU of farmers in fighting desertification, to the key role of EU producers in preserving surface vegetation in areas affected by persistent drought, and to the particular benefits afforded by permanent crops, meadows and woodlands for the capturing of water,

D.   whereas, in particular, agricultural soils in southern Europe and other regions of the Member States are at the centre of a process of environmental degradation brought about by negative interactions between human activity and climate events,

E.   whereas over-intensive farming can contribute to soil erosion, rendering it non-productive,

F.   whereas desertification is now considered to be one of the most significant threats in terms of land deterioration in the Mediterranean countries,

G.   whereas soil is the basis for the production of human foodstuffs, fodder, textiles and fuels, and whereas it plays an important role in CO2 capture; whereas, however, soil is now more than ever at risk of irreversible damage caused by wind and laminar erosion, pollution, salinisation, sealing, depletion of organic substances and the loss of soil biodiversity,

H.   whereas the adverse effects identified to date are disruption of the hydrogeological balance, the infiltration of seawater into coastal aquifers, soil salinisation, agricultural land loss, a reduction in biodiversity, as well as greater vulnerability to fire, plant disease and animal disease,

I.   whereas the above changes in the interaction between the natural/human environment and agricultural production are having a major impact on arable and livestock farming systems, agricultural land use and the supply of foodstuffs, with obvious repercussions for food security, and the social, cultural and economic structures of the areas concerned as a result of population exodus, as well as hydro-geological consequences,

J.   whereas irrigation also serves to maintain soil humidity and to recharge aquifers, and whereas these factors should be taken into account when shaping the common agricultural policy (CAP),

K.   whereas water shortages and drought result in even higher prices for agricultural raw materials, and aware of the need to ensure secure food supplies for the population,

L.   whereas farming and forestry management provides opportunities for action to affect the overall carbon balance that can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,

M.   recalling the existence of the above-mentioned United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, whose objective is to combat the deterioration of arable land and drought, and recalls Parliament's support for this convention,

N.   recognising the role of the Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC(3)) as a regulatory framework and a basic instrument for soil protection, promoting interregional cooperation, the sustainable use of water and the protection of available water resources whilst at the same time helping to mitigate the effects of floods and drought,

O.   whereas an integrated, multidisciplinary approach is required in order to avoid being forced to look for emergency solutions, which can generate further adverse impacts and damaging chain reactions,

P.   whereas the situation needs to be monitored to identify changes in existing phenomena and the emergence of new risk situations, making specialised use of satellite readings and geological and biochemical models (mapping),

Q.   whereas extreme weather conditions have become more common, with an alternation between periods of drought and extreme rainfall events, which speed up lithosphere degradation processes, in particular in areas where soils are structurally more vulnerable in both northern and southern Europe,

R.   whereas there has been a worldwide increase in food demand and prices,

1.  Considers that CAP guidelines and management methods should explicitly include principles and instruments for climate protection in general and reduction of damage resulting from soil degradation in particular;

2.  Stresses that Community funding for measures to adjust the agricultural sector to climate change must be based on a territorial approach which takes account of the level of vulnerability of the EU regions; points out that, according to reliable assessments at international and European level, the agricultural soils of southern Europe are more susceptible to climate change;

3.  Regrets the short-sighted attitude of the heads of State and government in deciding to reduce funding for rural development; notes that the resources provided for under the second pillar are too limited for tackling the new challenges arising from climate change;

4.  Considers that the present problems, including food shortages, water scarcity, the rise in temperatures and evapotranspiration and the risk of soil degradation, require new, integral and scientific agricultural policies applicable to Mediterranean climatic conditions, and that, with the help of European Union and national institutions, these policies need to reflect research and development on crops locally adapted to the new environmental challenges, in areas including water saving, while giving enough revenue to farmers to maintain a European standard of living;

5.  Takes the view that, within the context of soil conservation strategy, the "good agricultural and environmental condition" principles established under the CAP should lay greater emphasis on measures to check and improve the operability and ecological sustainability of existing drainage systems by drawing up ecologically sustainable water management plans geared to local conditions and advising farmers in drought-threatened areas on the successful cultivation of water-saving crops suited to local conditions;

6.  Believes that the EU should provide greater support for improving water management in respect of agricultural land; stresses that this will necessitate creating incentives for introducing more efficient irrigation systems adapted to different crops, promoting appropriate research, and encouraging ways of building on advances in biotechnology;

7.  Considers that "micro" reservoirs for irrigation (hill reservoirs) and for firefighting, to be managed by the relevant local agencies, should be built above areas requiring irrigation, thus enabling gravity to be used so as to keep operating costs to a minimum, with use being made, wherever possible, of urban waste water treated using plant-based and surface impoundment techniques;

8.  Notes the importance of terraces in combating erosion and increasing the water-storage capacity of soil and considers that measures should be taken to maintain, restore and build them;

9.  Takes the view that agricultural and forestry systems should include programmes for the forestation of marginal and/or polluted farm land, given that shrub roots can anchor the unstable upper layer to the stable underlying rock, which acts as a purifying substrate;

10.  Advocates a Community forestry policy grounded primarily in the need to tackle climate change;

11.  Believes it is also necessary to encourage agricultural measures aimed at ensuring the preservation of surface vegetation, so as to prevent salinisation of groundwaters arising from erosion;

12.  Points out that many Mediterranean shrub species have good fire resistance properties and excellent vegetal recovery capacities and should therefore be promoted, particularly since their root systems are well-suited to the task of combating soil erosion;

13.  Takes the view that, to this end, the aim should be to cultivate varieties which require less water or, in certain circumstances, to replace spring crops with winter crops, which not only require less irrigation but also effectively protect the soil by means of vegetative cover during the critical erosion period of winter;

14.  Takes the view that local nurseries are able to produce ecotypes that are better suited to the local environment, and that specific measures should be taken to encourage them to do so;

15.  Calls for the promotion of the preservation and planting of hedgerows, particularly in areas where these have been lost over recent years;

16.  Acknowledges the important role which plant genetic resources can play in helping land management adjust to changing climatic conditions; calls on the Commission and the Member States, therefore, to draw up programmes to foster the conservation and further development of plant genetic resources by farmers and gardeners and by small- and medium-sized nurseries;

17.  Points to the importance of set-aside areas for the recovery of agricultural land and for water retention; calls on the Commission and the Member States concerned to encourage agricultural systems that are adapted to the land in Mediterranean ecosystems;

18.  Considers that, among the criteria for retaining organic matter in soil, the CAP "good agricultural and environmental condition" principles should provide incentives for carbon absorption and fixation based on optimum use of dryland farming techniques (minimum tilling, crop rotation, genotypes suited to the local environment, evapotranspiration control, targeted fertilisation, integrated control, etc.);

19.  Calls on the relevant bodies at territorial level to gear irrigation water management plans and usage techniques to the new environmental requirements and conditions, to ensure that targeted, quality-based use is made of water resources and to take steps to ensure that irrigation water management bodies optimise the management of available water resources, taking account of the need to reduce waste in water distribution systems;

20.  Advocates the creation of a Community drought monitoring centre, as a special department within the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, and the reinforcement of the Union's coordinated reaction capacity in facing forest fires, given that both phenomena are major causes of desertification and the deterioration of agricultural land, especially in the Mediterranean regions;

21.  Underlines the need to improve the effectiveness of information supplied by Member States and the coordination between them;

22.  Recommends the development of a rapid alert and continuous surveillance system for soil conditions so that timely action can be taken to combat erosion, the depletion of organic matter resulting in greenhouse gas emissions and the loss of arable land and biodiversity;

23.  Calls on the Commission, in connection with the proposal for a new definition of mountain areas and other areas with natural handicaps it is to submit in 2009, to include among the priority evaluation criteria the level of risk of soil degradation and desertification in the areas subject to monitoring;

24.  Considers it necessary to strengthen research, development and innovation, paying particular attention to the areas most affected by water scarcity and drought and taking account of biotechnological progress;

25.  Calls on the Commission to look into, during the mid-term review of the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration activities, scheduled for 2009, the provision of greater incentives to support research and development programmes conducted by more and more Member States and aimed at improving knowledge with a view to ensuring more sustainable management of soils and areas affected by degradation;

26.  Asks the Commission to consider the need to create a framework to combat the causes and effects of climatic change, in particular soil deterioration.

27.  Considers that appropriate training and refresher programmes should be provided for both those working in the sector and the general public, with the dual aim of seeking specific solutions and raising user awareness of the shared responsibility for environmental resource use;

28.  Calls on the Union to implement information and training measures aimed in particular at young farmers with a view to promoting the introduction of agricultural techniques favourable to soil conservation, especially regarding the impact of climate change and the role played by farming in climate;

29.  Recalls, in line with its resolution of 5 June 2008 on the future for young farmers under the ongoing reform of the CAP(4), that priority should be given, in the allocation of project funding, to activities that can encourage young people to set up in farming;

30.  Considers that the Union should strengthen and improve feed and food autonomy and self-sufficiency, including by ensuring better protection for agricultural soils and their productivity and, in particular, by fostering the sustainable use of grassland for stock farming (by means of free-range meat programmes, premiums to reward grazing practices consistent with nature conservation, etc.) in order to achieve a greater degree of feed autonomy; takes the view that, with a view to contributing to food security and sustainability throughout the world, the CAP must seek to strike a balance between plant production, animal production and energy production in the EU farming industry;

31.  Calls, in the framework of a global CO2 market, for the promotion of the preservation and regeneration of forests and reafforestation using mixed species, primarily in Member States which have lost their natural forest heritage, and underlines the need to launch an integrated, sustainable forest management system in the European Union;

32.  Underlines the role of forests in the water cycle and the importance of a balanced mix of forests, grassland, pasture and crop land for sustainable water management; highlights, in particular, the role of soils with high organic content and adapted crop rotation; warns that the increasing exploitation of land is a threat to agriculture, food security and sustainable water management;

33.  Calls, with reference to farming activities relating to the maintenance of fields, permanent grazing land and wooded areas, for it to be made possible for the issue of green certificates to be tied to the production of public goods (carbon dioxide storage, biodiversity, soil conservation);

34.  Calls on the Member States to use the second pillar of the CAP in order to award premiums for farming activities relating to the maintenance of fields, permanent grazing land and wooded areas and, in this way, to contribute to the production of public goods (carbon dioxide storage, biodiversity, soil conservation); calls on the Commission to treat the maintenance of grassland as a priority;

35.  Calls on the Council and Commission to explore strategies for the recovery of damaged soil on the basis of incentive measures to limit soil deterioration;

36.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission and the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ C 282 E, 6.11.2008, p. 281.
(2) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2008)0473.
(3) OJ L 327, 22.12.2000, p. 1.
(4) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2008)0258.

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