Ohey municipality: distributing public agricultural land more equitably among farmers

Author: Françoise Ansay, Terre-en-vue

1) Objectives and highlights

The municipality of Ohey has about 90 ha of agricultural land (located in the agricultural zone) in the form of "essarts" (i.e. private domain of the municipality). These are small plots of land of about 0.25 ha which, historically, were intended to be made available to poor, non-farming households to enable them to grow food. Over time, as these families sourced their food from shops, the land was gradually rented out to farmers. In the early 1980s, the municipality revised its communal regulations: it granted the land to farmers according to a series of criteria for a period of 9 years. In 2015, the land had not been reallocated since the adoption of this last regulation. Five farmers were then sharing the lease of these public plots. A new regulation was put in place with the unanimous support of the farmers (represented in a communal commission) and the municipal council. After allocation under the new regulations, more than 30 farmers now benefit from the public plots.

2) Stakeholders involved

Local authorities involved:

  • The municipal council of Ohey

Other stakeholders involved:

  • The municipal “Farmers' Commission”, which brings together representatives of farmers cultivating on the municipality's territory

  • The regional land management administration

  • The regional land administration, which controls the legality of the regulatory acts of the municipalities.

3) Context and levers

As a small rural municipality of 5,000 inhabitants, with 90 ha of public agricultural land, the commune of Ohey had a regulation defining the terms and conditions under which farmers could be granted the management of this land. The criteria, which were historical, favoured farmers who lived in the municipality and had the largest number of dependents in their household. These leases were supposed to have a duration of 9 years. However, for nearly 30 years, the distribution of the land had not been reviewed. Due to the retirement of farmers and disappearance of farms, the essarts finally ended up in the hands of less than five farmers.

Thus, in 2015, the municipal council (and its Rural Development alderwoman) decided to revise the regulations in order to both better distribute the land among the farmers with the least land (concern for equity) and also to apply environmental clauses to certain plots (to preserve woodland edges, wetlands, paths and trails, and to ban pesticides for plots located next to housing areas).

4) Actions led

The municipality of Ohey has:

  1. Implemented a new regulation to determine the terms and conditions for granting land to farmers. To do this, the regulation included preferential criteria for selecting farmers. The following criteria were used:

  • possible loss of public essart land in the context of municipal projects in the past;

  • age of the applicant (the youngest being the most favoured);

  • current surface area used by the farmers as indicated in the last CAP declaration (the smallest area being favoured);

  • ratio of utilised agricultural area per labour unit (UAA/LU) (in order to give priority to the farms with the most labour force);

  • number of tax dependants (to give priority to applicants with the most dependants);

  • proximity of the farm buildings to the desired land;

  • being a farmer as a main professional activity.

A certain number of points were awarded according to these elements. The applicant farmer with the most points was awarded the land lease.

  1. Identified the environmental weaknesses or assets of the plots and defined the terms of protection, on a case-by-case basis. For example: presence of a wetland (with the obligation to install a pond), protection of paths and woodland edges (by installing grass strips of at least 3 metres), ban on pesticides when the plots borders houses or schools.

  2. Involved farmers and elected officials in the reallocation process in a participatory way. Throughout the process of reviewing the allocation of the essarts, the farmers – gathered within a communal commission – were consulted and their expertise was sought to adjust the regulations to their field realities. This also help make the farmers aware of the importance of greater equity in the distribution of the public land among them. The progress of the process was also regularly presented to the municipal council with all elected representatives of the commune. Finally, the regulation was adopted unanimously by the farmers and the elected municipal officials.

  3. Revised the official size of the parcels to better correspond to reality. Indeed, with time and years, the transfers of plots following deaths or retirements, and the concentration of land, the initial small plots of 0.25 ha were regrouped and cultivated in larger plots of 2 to 4 ha. Thus, in the wake of the revision of the allocation regulations, a major task of re-demarcation of these plots has been carried out.

5) Limits and perspectives

This work, has lasted almost five years, could not have been carried out without:

  • an important participatory process involving and empowering the farmers gathered in a municipal commission;

  • the will of an elected official concerned with greater equity between farmers and the importance of supporting access to public land;

  • a motivated and relevant administrative staff to manage the diversity and complexity of such a project.

The result is not only a better distribution but also a better use of the plots, notably with the application of measures to protect their environmental value.

Last updated