The EU agriculture sector is undergoing structural change but needs to address gender bias, generational renewal and labour issues, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This week, OECD published the findings of an EU-funded report entitled Policies for the Future of Farming and Food in the European Union.

The report examines how EU policies and interventions up to 2022 have enhanced the productivity, sustainability and resilience of the EU’s food and agriculture sector.

It also explores the potential of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 2023-2027 to meet the objectives of the European Green Deal.

Generational renewal

The OECD said that the EU agri-food sector is at “a critical juncture” as it confronts climate change, crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, along with ensuring food security, environmental sustainability and providing livelihoods.

It said that the future capacity of the sector to combine productivity, sustainability and resilience will be influenced by recent and ongoing structural changes.

In 2020, while there were about 5.1 million fewer farms in the EU than in 2005 – a 36% decrease – the agricultural area decreased only by 6.3% over the same period.

The reports states that the majority of the reduction in farm numbers relates to holdings under 5ha; the amount of farms over 100ha in the EU has increased.

The share of the EU working population employed in agriculture has also dropped, while the average agricultural income per full-time employee has increased.

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The report stresses that without generational renewal there is a risk of not achieving the current EU agricultural policies.

“Young farmers are crucial for viable, productive and innovative agriculture, but the proportion of young farmers has been decreasing over time.

“The problem of generational renewal goes well beyond the farming sector, and may potentially have negative long-term effects on, for example, land abandonment and rural viability.

“Access to land, and the corresponding payment rights, as well as to credit, are the main obstacles to setting up a business in the farming sector,” the OECD said.


The report also said that “women are underrepresented in the EU farming sector”.

“Gender bias is a structural characteristic of agriculture in almost all EU member countries. The CAP has few policy levers to change this,” the OECD said.

Efforts by some EU member states, such as Spain with its law on shared ownership, have not resulted in any significant change.

“Gender issues in agriculture deserve policymakers’ attention, as diversity has been shown to improve resilience and adaptability,” the OECD said.

The report calls on the EU to “design specific measures to reduce the barriers to entry for women, learning from the experience of other countries”.

In 2016, just 28.7% of farm managers were female. This figure increased to 31.6% in 2020.

The OECD also said that migrant workers are an increasingly important part of the EU farming sector.

“The outflow of local labour has been partially compensated by inflows of foreign labour, including undocumented workers whose numbers are difficult to quantify.

“These undocumented workers are often poorly treated, and many are confronted with detrimental working and living conditions,” it said.

The organisation said that the consideration of the rights of migrant workers and their working conditions is “essential for the sustainability of the EU farming sector”.


The OECD said that direct payments are “not the most efficient tool to create jobs or to maintain employment in agriculture and rural areas”.

Instead, it said that policy instruments directly aimed at enabling investments that create new and sustainable employment would be preferable.

“The impact of the direct payments system in slowing down generational renewal and innovation deserves particular attention with respect to their effect on broader socioeconomic objectives,” the report said.

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The OECD said that current measures to support generational renewal in the CAP “have significant shortcomings and fail to follow an integrated and holistic approach”.

“The current CAP process fails to address many of the barriers to generational renewal in agriculture, such as access to land and capital, lack of business skills, inefficiency of succession plans, and lack of attractive professional perspectives in the agricultural sector,” it added.

Among the recommendations contained in the OECD report is that the EU explores the possibility of withholding CAP income payment rights from farmers who have reached the statutory retirement age.

Several EU countries have already introduced links between CAP payments and pension schemes, by requiring the farm to be passed on to a successor to receive a pension.

The OECD said that the eligibility criteria for entry support should not be limited to the applicant’s age, with more targeted and long-term investment programmes on innovative business plans.