Barjac, scene of the 2008 film “Our children will accuse us” which celebrates the town mayor’s decision to convert the school canteen to organics while documenting a massive public health scandal linked to pesticide use in the local farm community.
Inspired by the success of his school canteen initiative, Edouard Chaulet, the mayor, has launched a new project this year which he claims is a world first. Using an innovative social financing scheme pioneered with association Terre de Liens, he has made available a 120-hectare plot of land for organic farmers to rent and farm collectively. The aim: to increase land surface area in the Gard region of France farmed organically to help close the gap between demand and supply.
Chaulet first approached local authorities to rent land from them.
“The obstacle to local organics is that we don’t have enough farmers who are convinced by this mode of production, which would in addition work to stop rural desertification. And when we find farmers, we aren’t able to set them up because they don’t own any land,” he told Libération in an interview.
Then he approached “Terre de Liens” to raise funds using an innovative shareholder model based on a social compact which offers no dividends, but tax breaks for investors who stay in for at least 5 years.
The association, created in 2006 in partnership with bank La Nef, collects savings from citizens and companies to buy farms and then rent them out exclusively to organic farmers.
It has a “Finansol” label, which means that it guarantees to savers that their money will be invested in projects with a social purpose.
As of May 2010, the Terre de Liens association had 4,700 shareholders for a capital of 12.5 million euros. Thanks to this capital, 45 farmers, with an average age of 35 years, were able to set themselves up and 26 farms were purchased.
Chaulet’s project was the most ambitious ever seen by Terre de Liens. The initial investment: one million euros plus 500,000 euros for restoring the farm buildings and other work related to irrigation.
The 120-hectare plot will be farmed by a collective, and tenants have to share tractors, animals, water rights and buildings. Furthermore, there is a time lag of 2 years before the farm produce can obtain an organic label.
Land in the Gard region of France costs around 6,000 euros per hectare. For the “sharecroppers” of La Grange des Pres, the cost of renting a hectare is 50 euros per year for the first 2 years, and then 73 euros in subsequent years.
“The Common Agricultural Policy (of the EU) forces our farmers relentlessly towards large monoculture farms. These big intensive farms destroy the countryside, make the soil sterile and the water undrinkable. We need a diverse and local agriculture, not thousands of tons of cereals!” said Sjoerd Wartena, president of Terre de Liens.