22 January 1999

Conservation is key to survival

FARMERS will only survive if they diversify and take on more responsibility for environmental maintenance, according to MPs on the House of Commons agriculture select committee.

The committees report on rural development measures, some of which are being considered by EU farm ministers as part of the Agenda 2000 reforms, says that, in future, farmers could be paid for conserving the rural landscape. But, in addition, they will be forced to turn from agriculture to alternative rural activities. Forestry, tourism, food processing and conversion of buildings to light industrial use are likely options, the report states.

And, despite EU proposals, the MPs said they were not convinced that rural development policies leant themselves naturally to a European-wide framework. A local approach could be more successful.

But the report conceded that a local approach could lead to distortions, with other member states perhaps supported more generously.

The MPs said that whatever was agreed, it was important to secure additional funding, as more money would be needed.

Earlier this week, the Agricultural Advisory Group, headed by former farm minister Jack Cunningham, also came out in support of a greater degree of national and regional discretion in operating the CAP, especially in respect of rural and environmental policy. &#42