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Will EU subsidies be enough to encourage greener farming?

In France, as in the rest of Europe, farmland makes up most of what we call the environment but intensive farming practices have exacted their own costs. And by depleting the very foundations upon which it depends - water, soil and pollinators - modern agriculture becomes a menace to itself.

In 2011, food prices reached an all-time high, pushing millions more people into poverty worldwide and playing a part too in the revolts that spread across the Arab world. The United States meanwhile was grappling with a record number of extreme weather events, including severe flooding in New York and Pennsylvania caused by Tropical Storm Lee. These two strings of events are united by a common figure.


Fifty-five billion.

In dollars, this is how much Arab Spring is estimated to have cost countries like Libya, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen, according to the International Monetary Fund, (IMF). It is also the tally of damages caused by a record number of billion-dollar weather disasters that struck the US last year. But these events are also a sign of times to come. Climate change is fated to bring more severe storms and extreme weather, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), causing disruptions on the global food market and exacerbating the forces that already leave 900 million people hungry around the world.

Founders of the European Union learnt half a century ago what it meant to govern the hungry. Emerging from over a decade of severe food shortages with farmlands ravaged from the war, six countries - Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands - came together to create the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), an ambitious campaign to modernise farms, increase food production, protect the livelihoods of farmers and ultimately secure its own provisions.

Today, the policy carries it's own hefty €55 billion price tag - a budget that consumes more than 40% of the EU total. But when compared with the fallout from food riots or extreme weather disasters, it could be seen as a worthwhile investment - providing it was designed to help European farmers tackle the immense challenges on the horizon.

With its fertile lands and EU subsidies, France was able to secure its status as an agricultural powerhouse over the last half century, emerging among the world's leading producers on an increasingly globalised food market. There are about 500,000 farms in France, covering more than half of the country's territory. Anywhere there is not a city or village, factory or forest, in other words, there is farmland. The vineyards of the Haut Vaucluse, the cornfields of Brittany, the vast cereal plains that stretch before you as you exit Paris to the south - these landscapes shape the countryside, deeply defining the DNA of each territory. But one needn't visit France to get a taste of its regions. Bordeaux's and Champagne's have become icons of the country’s finest provinces.

Article continues at ENN affiliate, Ecologist

French Farm image via Shutterstock