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Preserve and Share the Land. A Synthesis of AGTER’s and Terre de liens’ Proposals to rebuild France’s Agricultural Land Policy

Written by: Translated to English by Emily Murphy

Writing date:

Organizations: Association pour contribuer à l’Amélioration de la Gouvernance de la Terre, de l’Eau et des Ressources naturelles (AGTER), Terre de Liens

Type of document: Paper / Document for wide distribution

Preserve and Share the Land

An agricultural policy in favor of an ecologic shift in order to:

  • preserve and improve the ecological functions of agricultural and foresting spaces

  • create jobs and added value, in addition to better sharing them

I. Sharing the land


Today, terrestrial plants provide 97% of the calories that we consume. The future of the human diet depends on agricultural and forestry areas, all of which fosters biodiversity and interrelated ecological functions such as production of biomass, and water and carbon storage. In order to construct a more sustainable world from humanity’s point of view, we must stop the destruction of agricultural and forestry areas. This is one of the measures needed to be taken in order to fight against global warming and the erosion of biodiversity as well as to ensure sustainable food production.

Flaws in the current legislation

Today, the current policies concerning agricultural and forestry land preservation (in terms of surface area) are based on multiple but disjoint zonings (ZAP, PENAP, ZNIEFF, water catchment perimeters, EBC wooded areas, …). Such sector-specific policies do not allow us to preserve all of these lands. To preserve agricultural and forest areas as a whole, we must stop their destruction by urban expansion and infrastructure construction.


  • Delineate « urban zones » and « natural, agricultural and forestry zones ».

  • Leave the power of urban planning to intermunicipalities or even communes within the urban fabric.

  • Give the power of urban expansion to federal and regional government, by accepting expansion only through derogations.

  • Apply the sequence PRO, Prevent–Reduce-Offset, by making up for the areas affected by urban expansion through the rehabilitation and restoration of urbanized land or industrial wasteland (not only in hectares, but also in terms of natural or agronomic potential

Follow-up measures:

  • Cancel the property value appreciations gained by landowners in relation to changes in use or modifications of public infrastructure

  • Introduce a tax on elevated urban sprawl that will make urban expansion more expensive for developers than rebuilding the city over the city.

II. Sharing and Better Using the Land


There is a strong tendancy today to concentrate land into increasingly larger production units. These large units set up specialized production systems that are simplified, standardized, automated and robotized, on ever larger plots that take very little account of the environment around them. On the other hand, agroecology seeks to ensure that production systems adapt to ecological environments (see the 2014 bill Law on the Future of Agriculture). The production systems of large farms extract less value per hectare and provide fewer jobs per unit area, even though they increasingly occupy agricultural surfaces (cereals and beef meat production). The production units remain mainly familial or farming units to the extent that holders of operating capital (excluding land) still provide the majority of workforce. However, for a growing number of production units, hired labor exceeds family labor, and more and more of those who hold the social capital of agricultural enterprises do not actually participate in agricultural work.

For some, agriculture is just one of many sectors that they invest in. At the same time, more and more f, often on relatively small areas of land. This trend reflects the growing presence of numerous project holders and a desire to produce differently. However, access to land, even relatively confined plots, remains very difficult for most of them. This is all the more problematic since agroecology responds to a strong social demand for local production based on quality and respect for the environment, as well as maintaining a rich social life in the countryside.

Flaws in the current legislation

In 1960 and 1962, structural policies were designed around production units based on two workers. For their projects, applicants had to obtain a business license in order to establish or expand. In 1962, the SAFERs get the right to pre-emption to direct the destination of land freely placed on the market.

These tools were adapted to land and rental markets. Starting particularly in the 1980s, they lost some of their efficiency because of a rise in the use of circumvention devices and a corporate agricultural format, for which the control devices had not been designed and could not control.

Central proposition

Installation of a new regulatory authority to oversee land use rights, a Departmental Commission of Land Regulation

This body would constitute a new “structures committee” better adapted to the current context by taking into account the corporate reality. The Prefect would preside over this commission, continually integrating representatives of agricultural labor unions, elected representative and environmental organization representatives. The commission’s composition and its decisions would be transparent to the general public. The idea is to develop a land governance that is more participative, more democratic and more respectful of territorial equilibriums.

The commission would have the power to authorize or refuse the realization of projects, based on the three key criteria of added value generated per hectare, jobs per unit of area and the sustainability of production systems :

  • 1) projects for the sale of agricultural goods (land, buildings, etc.) or shares in companies that have de facto rights to use agricultural property and

  • 2) projects for renting agricultural property.

The SAFER, under the control of the State, would be in charge of the Observatory of Land Markets and would be responsible for applying and enforcing the land policies of the Regulatory Commission.

Complementary propositions

  • Pursue and improve the control of the access costs to land through the regulation of rent levels with the “fermage” status (which frames land and agricultural buildings leases) and through the regulation of the market value of land, to allow access to land to a wider audience.

  • Create or strengthen structures of agricultural land portages to allow the installation of a greater number of project sponsors.

  • Put in place specific measures to finance agroecological infrastructures on agricultural (or forest) land for more sustainable systems.

  • Fund land regulation policy tools through public resources so that they no longer need to depend on capital gains earned during land transactions.