Common agricultural policy: a tragedy for the commons?

By Tibor Hartel

The winds/wings of the European Union (EU) start to arrive in Romania, including the Saxon landscapes of Transylvania. This may mean many good things, but also may have negative consequences. Probably context matters here too. Below I give a short example regarding this, using grazing as example.

Low intensity grazing maintained heterogeneous landscapes, although pastures were cleaned from scrubs every year by the traditional societies of this region. Pastures in the Saxon landscapes were communally used, and each member of the society was ‘interested’ in keeping these pastures in ‘good quality’. The traditional links between people and communal pastures were degraded till a certain degree by the communism – but not eroded totally (this is good!). A period appeared after 1989 when the number of grazing animals dropped (and the buffalo almost disappeared) due to a number of socio-economic factors. One consequence of this was the increase of scrub cover in the pastures.

Heterogeneous pasture grazed by cattle.

From 2007 Romania is part of EU. Since then, agri-environment payments ‘facilitate’ the re-use of the previously abandoned pastures. This is quite successful: people not only clean the pastures, but also, grazing starts to increase in its intensity. Apparently looks like a good thing, EU could smile in a satisfied way: ‘yeah – good job!’ – the EU would say.

What EU probably not envisioned well: social context matters, and reducing everything to financial incentives can harm and blind people, ultimately making them kind of crazy and unhappy.

To turn back to pastures and grazing. Pastures are cleaned, true. But can we consider ‘cleaning’ when whole pastures (often whole landscapes) are burned? This recent phenomena is often explained as a direct consequence of ‘easy access’ of agri-environment money. These uncontrolled burnings cause unpreceeded environmental damages in these landscapes. The many old, veteran trees burned in the wood-pastures of Southern Transylvania during the process of ‘pasture cleaning’ are very visible victims of this new, apparently ‘autocorrelated’ mass craziness hitting Transylvanian and Romanian landscapes. The phenomenon is getting huge and uncontrolled proportions.

Ancient tree burned in a wood-pasture.

Pastures are indeed grazed – an apparently good thing. But, again, something seem to be ‘released’: people seem to not care about maintaining a pasture productive. It is all about having a lot of grazing animals – sheep in this case, mostly because the economy of sheep beats the economy of cows and buffalos. The Saxon landscapes of Transylvania probably never experienced so many sheep than now. Sheep literally ‘shave’ the landscape, the pastures after this intensive sheep grazing looks like a well managed golf terrain. This, in combination with the above mentioned fire and other threats (like invasive species) don’t give good perspectives for these pastures, in the new world when the (more or less latent) driver is the EU and global changes knock at the door.

Pasture ‘shaved’ by sheep and ‘cleaned’ with the financial help for ‘agro-environment’.

The EU payment systems also affected the way how people organize themselves around the use of pastures. There may be some lucky situations when all seem to go well, and people share the benefits. But this is a very rare situation. The more likely situation is that the number of people interested in grazing suddenly increases: people who had nothing to do with grazing (but with offices) suddenly access huge amounts of lands and start grazing. Corruption events are generally in the air – when people talk about how newly the ‘communal pastures’ are ‘shared’. When money go in the ‘hearth’ of the landuse and society then people don’t value each other anymore, they seem to not value nature anymore, and a blind race for money start and those who become rich over night will give the rhythm of that community. Possibly a ‘regime shift’ will occur which ends with a ‘new type of equilibrium’ with few winners and many losers.

And now a last point: the global change is in the door of these landscapes. Imagine the fate of these over grazed and over burned landscapes and their biodiversity, under a weak and corrupt governance in a world when the summers are increasingly hot, dry and they length is also increase. When the autumn and winter precipitations are not enough to refill the water loss from soils happening in the extreme summers. And when the pressure for even more production is likely.

What type of world you see, imagining these?:)

I think this path is not useful for people and nature of the Saxon landscapes. And the ball is both in the hands of the EU and the local leaders to develop a viable strategy for the future of these landscapes.

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3 thoughts on “Common agricultural policy: a tragedy for the commons?

  1. Pingback: Communicating beyond the ivory tower (or why comics matter) | Ideas for Sustainability

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