A study by Tia Hermans into European agricultural support payments led to lively debates in meetings at the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, giving her some new insights into negotiations in Brussels. But her report led to angry reactions from representatives of the farming community, who felt that Alterra’s colourful maps were threatening their livelihood.
On 21 September 2005, the Ministry published a list of all support payments from Brussels to Dutch farms, having been forced to do so after an appeal to the Dutch Public Information Act by the Evert Vermeer Association, the think tank of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). The association wanted information about these subsidies, as it felt they were giving European farmers unfair advantages over poor farmers in developing countries. The publication of these figures received a lot of attention in the media, which concluded that the payments mostly went to large firms, like the Campina dairy company and giant food producer Nestlé, and that – unsurprisingly – it was the larger farms that received the largest sums.
When she read about this in the newspaper, Tia Hermans had an idea. ‘I suddenly thought: this is a great opportunity for us. We can link these data to our geographic farm information system GIAB.’ The system contains data on all Dutch farms, including their location and size. ‘So I mailed André van der Zande, Director-General at the Ministry, asking: would you like to know where, in what Dutch regions, the EU payments end up? I could prepare you maps of that. And the Ministry was indeed interested. ’At the same time, however, they realised that this statistical exercise might yield very controversial information. ‘Van der Zande then asked Gerrit Meester to supervise the study on behalf of the Ministry.’
Recent projects and publications by Tia Hermans: