Farmers are the most important managers of the environment and nature in Europe, where farmed land has been shaping the natural landscape for millennia. Most of Cyprus’ protected natural areas include significant agricultural landscapes. From olive and carob groves to traditional grazing pastures, low-intensity agriculture makes Cyprus an attractive place for birds; and where birds thrive, other biodiversity most likely thrives too, as birds are excellent indicators for the state of nature.
What is the problem?
Traditional, low-intensity agricultural practices are under threat in Cyprus from both abandonment, especially in the hills and uplands, and intensification, mainly in the lowlands. During the last 40 years, Europe lost almost 40% of its farmland birds.
This destruction is fuelled by our taxes. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP – amounting to 40% of the EU budget) almost indiscriminately subsidises intensive agriculture. A whopping 80% of direct payments goes to only 20% of farmers. It gets worse: one third of direct payments go to only 1.5% of farmers. Much of the rest also funds intensive practices that harm biodiversity, climate, water, air and soils (only 7% goes to environment protection).
What is the solution?
We need a new CAP, which guarantees sustainable, nature-friendly farming. The new CAP to be decided in 2020/2021 will apply for seven years. Next time around, in a decade’s time, we simply will not have the luxury of seven more years of nature destruction. That is why we so desperately need space for nature, money for nature and a transition for nature, right now.
What are we doing about it?
We have been advocating for sustainable, nature-friendly farming, both at the national and the European level, through our umbrella organization in Europe (BirdLife Europe and Central Asia).
On a national level
- We have been active in contributing with suggestions and proposals on how Cyprus designs its CAP subsidies to benefit birds, nature and small-scale farmers, and more recently through our involvement as partners in the LIFE IP Physis project.
- We are monitoring common birds annually, which includes our farmland birds, since 2006. The Government contracted BirdLife Cyprus to report on bird populations and trends in 2013 and to produce a Farmland Bird Index, an indicator used to monitor the health of farmland and nature in member states, in 2012-2014 and from 2018 onwards.
- We have been involved in projects with a strong agricultural component. Examples include the Akrotiri Marsh Restoration Project (2015-2017) and the Barn Owl Project (2015-2018).
- We are advocating against the loss of agricultural land important for biodiversity to land-use change brought about by its conversion to urbanized areas and renewable energy projects.
- We are part of a working group, set up by the Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Dr. Kadis, for the development of a National Action Plan for the use of the Barn Owl as a pest control agent.
On a European level
We campaign for a #FutureofCAP that includes the following principles:
#1 Space for nature – Science shows that if at least 10% of every farm in Europe was natural habitat – such as hedgerows, flower strips or ponds – then nature could come back. What’s more, it has even been shown to improve yields! This should be a basic requirement for receiving CAP subsidies.
#2 Money for nature – Until now, the EU and its member states have failed to provide the money that we need to save biodiversity. The CAP is worth €60 billion. By investing a quarter of that for nature-friendly farming (€15 billion), we can support farmers’ incomes and protect nature. It’s also crucial to stop spending money against nature.
#3 Transition for nature – Farmers need help to transition out of the intensive agriculture model. The ‘money for nothing’ direct payments are doing the opposite: keeping business as usual in place. These need to be replaced with funding tools that deliver on a transition to sustainable agriculture: for instance, conversion to organic farming, agro-ecology, diversification of production and into alternative sources of revenue.