Is Rural Norway Becoming a Culture Park?

13 March 2008 20:49

(updated: 7 March 2016 20:51)

Is Rural Norway Becoming a Culture Park?

In the future of Norwegian agriculture the role of the farmer could be more of "park curator" rather than producer of raw goods, believes NHH-professor and agricultural economist, Rolf Jens Brunstad.

In the article "Future Challenges for Norwegian Agriculture" Brunstad concludes that it is time for a radical redefinition of the role of both the farmer and of farming, in Norway.

"Norwegian farming has been in a permanent state of crisis since the 1930s, characterized by low profitability and problems related to overproduction. From a climatic and topographical perspective we have revealed competitive disadvantages," concludes the professor. Each year, Norwegian farming receives approximately 20 million kroner in subsidies.

Positive Side Effects

Brunstad emphasizes that we should continue to support Norwegian agriculture. But not in the traditional sense of supporting the production of raw goods. Brunstad feels that it is the positive side effects of farming which should be stimulated, not the production itself.

"By encouraging a certain type of farming operation it is possible to preserve the cultural landscape in rural Norway, to keep it open and beautiful and to prevent over growth. This will create advantages in relation to recreation, tourism and the environment," argues Brunstad.

In the same way, agricultural policies should stimulate the support of healthy soil maintenance and the conservation of agricultural areas as assurance against the eventual future global food crisis. In addition, stimulating a certain type of farming will contribute to the continuation of scattered settlement patterns and rural lifestyles.

New Goals for Agricultural Subsidies

Earlier, agricultural subsidies were directed, to a large extent, toward production alone, therefore large quantities of production received hefty subsidies. Brunstad recommends channeling subsidies away from production and towards other factors. He asserts that payment for production will be obtained adequately through the market alone.

"By channeling agriculture subsidies directly to the use of land, farmers and farm labour can prevent overgrowth and the loss of cultural landscape, and the proper maintenance of soil will stimulate continued living on the peripheries," emphasizes the professor.

Farewell to the Peripheries

Brunstad further stresses that a result of the ongoing WTO-negotiation will be that Norway must reduce its agricultural subsidies and decrease agricultural customs. The agricultural economist stresses that this will result in a rather certain farewell peripheral farming in Norway - if the remaining subsidies are not channeled in new ways.

"For example farming in Hordaland and Ryfylke will disappear," stresses Brunstad.

He also emphasizes that agricultural areas in Jæren, around the Oslo Fjord and to some degree the areas around the Trondheim Fjord will become stronger in a more competitive agricultural market.

"Increasing grocery prices in the world market makes it easier to maintain commercial agriculture in these areas, even with reduced subsidies", he adds.

Little Understanding from Farmers

Brunstad says that his vision for future farming will not exactly make him popular among the farmers. He suggests that the opposition is mainly at the cultural and psychological level.

"The farmers have strong occupational pride which deals, to a great degree, with the fact that they see themselves as producers of goods, not as park curators". To add, he stresses that there is a substantial bureaucracy within the farming sector which has its own interest in conserving today's current agriculture and subsidies.

Brunstad, R.J.: "Fremtidige utfordringer for norsk landbruk", publisert i: Norske miljø- og ressursinteresser i en globalisert verden,
utgitt av Utenriksdepartementet, des. 2007, s. 111-117.

Text: Torgeir Uberg Nærland