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Protests over Brussels plan to buy up Brabant farmland

© Steven Lek/Wikimedia

Agriculture ministers from Flanders and Wallonia have protested at the Brussels region’s intention to buy farmland in the Brussels periphery to supply food to the capital.

The idea was suggested last week by Alain Maron (Ecolo), Brussels minister for the environment, and comes as part of the region’s Good Food 2 strategy. The original Good Food plan from 2016 set a target of 30% for the amount of Brussels’ food supply that should be produced within the region itself. To meet that target, Maron said, would require the region to buy up farmland, which would then be managed by farmers committed to short-chain food supply.

But we do not exclude the possibility that, in consultation with the neighbouring regions, land will be acquired on the outskirts in order to develop sustainable short-chain production, based on the city’s needs,” he said.

The region, he said, should buy land whenever the occasion arises, and there is a budget of €1.5 million for the purpose.

The plan clearly came as a surprise to the two other regions – Flanders in the immediate periphery and Wallonia slightly further out.

It is essential that our farmers can farm and for that they need sufficient land and legal certainty,” said Hilde Crevits (CD&V), agriculture minister for Flanders.

It is absolutely not the core task of the government to buy agricultural land itself and to enter the private market.”

Her Walloon counterpart Willy Borsus (MR) agreed.

I was amazed at Alain Maron’s statements,” he said. “Agricultural land is extremely expensive and access to land is complicated in Wallonia. If the Brussels Region also starts to purchase land, the pressure on prices for farmers and horticulturists will only increase,” he said.

Meanwhile on Twitter, the president of the farmers’ union Boerenbond, Sonja De Becker tweeted, “A government interfering with the private agricultural land market is always a bad idea. The same would apply to the Flemish government buying agricultural land in Flanders.”

The federal government, in the form of agriculture minister David Clerinval (MR) also expressed surprise at Maron’s idea, which he described as “a medieval conception of the division and functioning of our country.”

I regret this and also disapprove of the lack of recognition of the ambitions of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period post-2020. The CAP wants to give priority to access to land for young farmers and to support small and medium-sized farms,” he said.

This morning, Maron expressed regret in the Brussels parliament.

“I would like to apologize to the people of the agricultural world, in Flanders, in Wallonia but also in Brussels, who have been concerned at my statements on Monday morning ,” he said at a meeting of the parliament’s environment committee. He also admitted to having “clearly underestimated the sensitivity of this subject”.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times