The draft eco-schemes proposed by Member States: an assessment

 

Such analysis, reported in the document published in November 2021 by BirdLife Europe, European Environmental Bureau (EEB), and WWF European Policy Office, sheds some light on the expenditure of approximately €48.5 billion of EU funding over 5 years in the post-2022 CAP.

The report concerns the analysis of 166 eco-schemes as described in the draft Strategic Plans across 21 Member States. Most of countries are planning between 4 and 12 eco-schemes with the exception of Poland (17 eco-schemes) and Slovenia (30 eco-schemes). Few countries plan for a multidimensional eco-scheme gathering several interventions under one single heading.

We would like to underline that the information analyzed in this report is based on draft documents from the national CAP Strategic Plans (CSPs): the final formal submission to the Commission could therefore be changed. In addition, data on draft eco-schemes was provided by environmental NGOs and coalitions operating at national level who, in many cases, only received limited information from their Government.

The eco-schemes

According to the European Green Deal, the eco-schemes aim to reward those farmers who manage land in a nature- and climate-friendly way and to incentivize the adoption of specific farming practices with higher environmental and animal welfare benefit while the Farm to Fork Strategy underlines how they should "offer a major stream of funding to boost sustainable practices”.

The analysis described shows that only 19% of eco-schemes were deemed good and likely to deliver on their areas of action. 40% of the eco-schemes was judged to be going in the right direction, but still requiring some key improvements to ensure their environmental benefits. 32% of eco-schemes was evaluated of poor quality as their current requirement are not so high and would fit better in CAP conditionality, rather than in eco-schemes. 9% of eco-schemes were considered as greenwashing. For a low number of eco-schemes could not be assessed as few information was available.

Only five countries are proposing multi-dimensional eco-schemes which typically include a mixture of basic and higher level actions. As regards to the number of EU countries/regions with “good” or “OK” assessment in using eco-schemes per European Green Deal target, 14 countries plan to support “High diversity landscape features” (payments for non-productive features and areas going beyond conditionality requirements, as well as flower strips for pollinators and the maintenance of agroforestry systems or other farmland habitats); 13 countries plan to support “Nutrient loss and Fertilizer reduction” (eco-schemes related mostly to the use of nitrogen-fixing crops, green manures, and crop rotation); 11 countries plan to support “Organic farming”; 9 countries plan to support “GHG reduction” and 6 “Pesticides reduction” (normally eco-schemes include a limited use of certain pesticides, such as glyphosate (in Bulgaria), or limit use of all pesticides in certain cultures (Germany and Slovenia)).

What about agroforestry?

The benefits provided by agroforestry systems and practices for both biodiversity and climate are well known and assessed in scientific literature. Nevertheless, the report identified only four eco-schemes supporting agroforestry and the planting of trees on agricultural land. In facts, only three countries (Germany, Ireland and Poland) intend to use eco-schemes to support agroforestry or tree planting, a crucial climate mitigation and adaptation strategy with many co-benefits.  As the report declares “the establishment of agroforestry systems may be costly” and “it would be particularly relevant to look beyond eco-schemes and assess other tools within the CAP such as investment support measures to get a full picture of the total level of support for agroforestry”.

Because of that, in order to achieve environmental objectives, the eco-schemes here analyzed should be considered as complementary to other instruments in the CAP toolbox such as, conditionality, rural development interventions, investment support and farm advisory services.

Key recommendations to Member States and the European Commission

  • Pay for practices that contribute to a holistic transition towards more sustainable farming systems
  • Implement more multi-dimensional eco-schemes
  • Do not trade CAP conditionality for eco-schemes
  • Do not pay for basic farming practice
  • Ensure eco-schemes have a clear intervention logic and are designed to achieve measurable improvements
  • Eco-schemes must offer fair rewards to farmers, with payments proportional to the expected environmental benefit of the farming practices supported and the opportunity costs
  • Ensure coherence and synergies with other CAP tools