Research Outcomes Interview: The case of collective land securing initiatives in Europe

Trecadwgan Farm, Pembrokeshire

The work done by access to land organisations is increasingly becoming a topic of research. The RURALIZATION project for instance represents a major ongoing project which examines different initiatives across Europe that have found innovative solutions to access to land problems. Smaller research projects are also being set up, amongst others by a younger generation of students who are interested in the topic. Last spring the Biodynamic Land Trust took part in the Masters research of Daantje Berghuis (Utrecht University, Netherlands). In her Masters thesis, Daantje set out to uncover different challenges and approaches of various access to land organisations operating in western Europe. We asked her to tell us a more about her research.

Written by Daantje Berghuis, Sustainable Business & Innovation MA student at Utrecht University, Netherlands.

Which other organisations did you speak to besides the Biodynamic Land Trust?

I spoke to eight other organisations operating in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Wales. Just like in the UK, access to agricultural land is a massive problem in these countries. A lot of new initiatives are popping up in western Europe, although I also included more established initiatives to ensure a diverse sample. It was inspiring and hopeful to see that all kinds of initiatives are working on the access to land problem. Like the Biodynamic Land Trust, all the initiatives strive to secure land for sustainable farmers with the financial support from citizens, pursuing social goals rather than profit objectives. The organisations interviewed each approach the access to land problem from different angles and use different governance and financial models. For instance, some organisations rely on the support of citizens who are passionate about sustainable agriculture and who are willing (and able) to contribute with relatively high membership rates. The German initiative Bioboden for example asks one thousand euros for a cooperative share. By contrast, Dutch cooperative Land van Ons only asks forty euros for a two-year membership. This fast-growing, bottom-up initiative was founded in 2020 and has more than 20.000 members. The main aim of the organisation is to bring back biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. Other organisations adopt a slightly broader focus, sharing the aim of the Biodynamic Land Trust to connect communities to farming. To this end, some initiatives require partner farms to provide functions that benefit the local community (e.g. recreational or educational activities). Other initiatives take community involvement a step further and work with co-ownership models. In Lenteland’s model for instance, local residents become members of individual farm cooperatives. Hence local residents co-decide with the farmer about what happens on the land in their vicinity.

Did you find any commonalities in terms of challenges most initiatives face?

Definitely. It was noticeable that most initiatives mainly succeed in engaging financial supporters from a higher socio-economic background who already have affinity with sustainable agriculture. In order for initiatives to scale up and take on more farm projects, a broader group of citizens needs to perceive these organisations and their activities as legitimate and deserving of their financial support. This is hard since many people are not aware of access to land problems that farmers are facing. The general concept of a land trust or land cooperative can also be hard to grasp for people. An employee working at one of the case organisations for instance told me that she once set out online ads targeting a broader audience. She got several angry responses from people that did not understand the concept, for instance accusing the organisation of “stealing” land from farmers. Organisations thus have to come up with a strong narrative that is easy for the general public to understand.

Another common challenge is that organisations face scepticism from local residents from time to time towards new farm projects. This questioning often comes from traditional agricultural areas in which there is a low belief in the economic viability of sustainable agriculture. Moreover, new entrant farmers can be viewed as outsiders by local communities. Several organisations indicated that it is hard to change the minds of people by providing rational arguments. Instead, initiatives gain trust by demonstrating the benefits and viability of partner farms in practice.

Another example of a challenge that was repeatedly mentioned by organisations is finding farmers who are skilled and confident to steward and run a viable business on the land secured by the organisations. Some initiatives indicated that finding suitable farmers can be as big of a challenge as finding land. Other organisations mentioned that they are not able to answer all land requests and in some instances, the difficulty lies in finding the right match between a farmer and the land available – particularly when finding farmers with the right capabilities and skillsets. This was emphasized by organisations that support community farms and often are looking for a farmer that is an ‘all-rounder’. Knowledge of sustainable agriculture is needed, but one also needs to be a good entrepreneur and possess the social qualities and skills required to engage the community. Initiatives take action on this challenge by offering or assisting in finding education. Some initiatives assist new entrant farmers through their connections with sustainable farming schools and internships. Other initiatives have (co-)initiated their own educational programs or provide internships to potential farmer candidates.

In your research you describe various ways in which access to land organisations approach different stakeholders. Was there an approach that you found particularly interesting?

I find it interesting how some initiatives provide advice or educate governmental actors at sub-national level, who sometimes seem to have little knowledge of land matters. Organisations for example mentioned, actively approach and inform local politicians about the ways in which they can manage their public land, with the intention to ultimately lay claims to this land. Initiatives also indicated that some cities, regions, or municipalities do not have a very clear vision on how to manage their land, sometimes they are unfamiliar with the legislation or who is using their land. Some initiatives therefore try to mobilise these governmental actors, making sure that they know who is using their land and how, and invite them to think about alternative solutions toward who and how the land can be best supported.

Curious to know more? The Masters thesis will eventually be converted into a scientific article. Meanwhile, a PDF version can be sent upon request, please email

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