Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
In developed countries, the agriculture sector went through a massive structural transformation throughout the last decades. Even though industrialized agriculture seems to dominate the food supply nowadays, the importance of smallholder agriculture remains. From an ecological point of view, small and midsized farms secure biodiversity, enhance organic farming and preserve the fertility of soils and natural ground water. In addition to that, small and midsized farms are an indispensable part of every community in rural areas, providing local and trustworthy food supply, income for families and social infrastructure, i.e. by being a meeting point for local communities. Economically speaking, small and midsized farms bring economic stability to rural areas by diversity through many suppliers with a variety of products, lowering dependence from large producers focusing on single products. More than that, small and midsized farms can produce as cost effectively as industrialized agriculture, taking external costs and the achievements for nature and rural areas into consideration. The economic, ecological and social importance of small and midsized farms is also recognized by the EU as an integral focus of its Common Agricultural Policy, as mentioned in its policy information.
Even though economically healthy, 70% of all farmers above 45 years old (187.000 in total) do not have a secure succession for their farm. Traditionally, a farm is passed on to the farmer’s children, which still is the most known option but often fails because of different career interests of children or conflicts within the family. In addition, many children who took farms over from their parents did this out of obligation, not passion for the field. Other models, like the extra familial hand over Christian proposes, are almost not recognized today. In most cases, a farm is sold and closed down or bought by an industrial agriculture business (roughly 10.000 per year) when no successor is found. The loss of a farm affects the surrounding communities heavily in all aspects described above – both individually as well as systematically – resulting in a decline in life quality, supply of foods, tradition and cultural life.
On the other hand, students of agriculture sciences (approximately 20.000 in Germany) have a strong interest in starting an agriculture business and/or takeover of a farm; 90% of those interested want to farm organically. This is the chance for Germany’s agriculture sector to strengthen innovation and allow the transformation to a competitive, sustainable, cost-effective, and socially responsible agriculture in Germany. The entry into agriculture business is extremely difficult for young entrepreneurs, especially when they do not have a farming family background. Many of them do not have access or the needed capital to take over an existing farm or start a new one. Also, there are no start-up programs (education, consulting, process facilitation) for the agricultural sector as there are in other sectors. There is great potential for a modern, organic agricultural system that raises awareness for food production and consumption as well as strengthens rural areas economically and socially, but it needs a movement to bring it about.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In Germany, small and midsized farms serve an essential role for biodiversity, organic food production, landscape management, economic stability of rural areas and social integration of retired farmers. However, 70 percent of Germany’s 300.000 (mostly small) farms do not have a successor within their families. Currently, up to 10.000 small and midsized farms close per year, although many of them could provide decent income for one to two families. This shows that the underlying reasons are not economic but cultural, social and educational.
Christian Vieth, a business graduate and agricultural scientist, understands the complex set of issues lying beneath the handover problem and deals with it in a both holistic and innovative way: he wants to change the paradigm of how farm succession works. Because he is well connected to institutions educating young people for careers in farming and agriculture, he can shape a future perspective on entrepreneurship in agriculture for an interested young generation. He also simultaneously consults and educates farmers about the possibilities of succession without a family member involved – a revolutionary thought for many of them. The first in Germany, he also offers an online matchmaking platform that connects farmers with young agricultural entrepreneurs interested in taking over the daily work on the farm while at the same time enabling the predecessors to stay at the farm with a secure pension. He then systemically takes these individuals through the process of taking over, educating and training them also to understand their financial and legal options in this process of small farms take over.
Christian Vieth’s scales his model through systemic training of farm-take-over-coaches as well as further deepening his education, networking and lobbying efforts. His methodology cannot only serve to successfully promote the positive perspectives an entrepreneurial career in agriculture offers; it can also serve as a model for managing the agricultural transition in many other European countries.