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Rejuvenation of mountain farms

Fewer and fewer younger people are willing to inherit the running of small mountain farms. © Uwe Häntsch_flickr

Fewer and fewer young people want to become farmers. If no one is willing to inherit and take on the running of a farm, it will close. There is a lack of both recognition and incentives – from EU policy through to searching for partners.

As Rok Damijan, head of the Slovenian Young Farmers (ZSPM), puts it: «Once they leave the farm, they seldom come back.» Developments in Slovenia are similar to those in other Alpine countries: since 1980 more than half of all farms have been abandoned, many of them due to a lack of willing heirs. The downward trend is continuing, with small mountain farms in particular affected.

Mountain farming contributes both to local food security and environmental protection. It helps rural areas to develop and maintains the cultural heritage. In its «Mountain Farming» protocol, the Alpine Convention encourages account to be taken of these services. The EU’s common agricultural policy in fact addresses mountain farming and has recently established its own support structure for young farmers. The incentives are however not sufficient to compensate for the disadvantages when compared to farming in the lowlands: topographical conditions are too difficult, available farmland is too limited in the area, and land prices are too high.

Money alone is not enough

In addition to financial support, strategies for regional production and marketing are needed alongside the international recognition of products from sustainable agriculture and small-scale farms – something that CIPRA has long been demanding. Additional impulses can be provided through co-operation with other sectors such as tourism, crafts, forestry and energy. Mountain agriculture has been best preserved in those areas of the Alps where tourist activities are strongest. Tourism offers the potential for additional income and the possibility of local marketing of products and services. Well-maintained farms and cultivated landscapes in turn foster tourism.

Mountain farming thrives better in vibrant rural areas. Damijan sees here opportunities for bringing together young people, one of the aims of the ZSPM. «We want to show people that they are not alone.» These meetings are also aimed at helping farmers find a partner. «It is easier to meet someone there who knows what living on a farm is like. Finding a partner is a major issue among young farmers.»

 

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