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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portugal: Urgent Need for Young Farmers


In 2001, young farmers (40 years old and younger) represented 9.4% of the total number of farmers in our country. In 2021, this value dropped to 3.9%. (Photo by Diario Campanario)

 

Arlinda Cunha, 72, is an economist, former Minister of Agriculture and current professor at Universidade Catolica- Porto. Cunha is a native son of the village of Sao Joao de Boa Vista, Tabua Municipality, in Coimbra District. He wrote Agriculture, Food, Demography and the Environment, part of which appears below, in Espaço Rural (March-April).

 

Young farmers: We urgently need to renew the generation of farmers.


I place this issue at the top of the list of priorities, for reasons that need no justification, if we take into account the fact that the average age of Portuguese farmers is around 65 years old. In 2001, young farmers (40 years old and younger) represented 9.4% of the total number of farmers in our country. In 2021, this value dropped to 3.9%.


Something has to be wrong with an issue that all governments claim to be a priority and that they use as the banner of their agricultural policies. Although the Ministry of Agriculture has never carried out a systematic study of the path taken by the thousands of projects approved within the scope of CAP (Confederaçao dos Agricultores de Portugal) support for young farmers, the reasons for this failure are relatively well known, having essentially to do with the project's mortality rate after a mandatory maintenance period of 5 years (Cunha, Arlindo, 2021). The failure rate is a result of the inadequacy of support instruments and, above all, the lack of a technical monitoring and management system.


Therefore, I believe that there are four main lines of action to improve the situation.


The first has to do with support instruments. In addition to needing to be attractive, grants cannot be limited to non-refundable grants. Even adding investment support with the first installation award, young people who do not have parents or other family members who support them have difficulties in obtaining financing, due to the lack of banking experience. Hence, it is extremely important to create as a complement, integrated into the global support package, a credit instrument, with public or mutualized guarantees, for the non-subsidized component of the investment project and for the necessary working capital.

Secondly, the support policy for young farmers should reward young people who are successful in carrying out their first installation projects with support for new investments in resizing, consolidating and improving their holdings, in conditions equal to or close to those of the first installation, as well as financial support for the acquisition of neighboring lands in the context of investment projects for the first installation or consolidation, which allow improving the size, profitability and management of holdings.

Thirdly, conditions must be created for the establishment of young farmers and their families, in the territories of their holdings, with the institutionalization of a support regime, within the framework of the cohesion policy, for the acquisition or restructuring of private housing, or leasing, located in low-density rural territories, close to its exploitation.

Finally, but perhaps the most important of the measures to be taken, it is imperative to create a monitoring and technical-economic follow-up system for the first installation projects of young farmers, within the framework of the financing of technical advice and management services, in order to reduce the failure rate of approved projects.


On another level, given the worrying pace of aging of the agricultural business fabric, it is necessary to create a differentiated regime to support first-time projects in agriculture for citizens between 40 and 55 years old who choose to reside permanently in areas of very low density and meet the other requirements regarding the feasibility of investments and technical qualifications.

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