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Non-mountainous areas with natural constraints (ex Less Favoured Areas (LFA) - "Intermediate areas")

The aid to farmers in non-mountainous areas with natural constraints (ex LFA) provides a mechanism for maintaining the countryside in areas where agricultural production or activity is more difficult because of significant natural handicaps (e.g. difficult climatic conditions, steep slopes, or low soil productivity). Due to the natural constraint to farming in these areas, there is a significant risk of agricultural land abandonment and thus a possibility of loss of biodiversity, desertification, forest fires and the loss of highly valuable rural landscape. To mitigate these risks, the scheme supporting areas with natural constraints helps to maintain appropriate farming systems preserving landscapes and habitats. In many areas, this is also an important part of the cultural heritage and of the overall attractiveness of rural areas. Following the Special Report of the European Court of Auditors 4/2003 challenging the LFA scheme, the Commission departments launched the LFA review exercise. Meanwhile, a panel of soil, climate and land evaluation experts, co-ordinated by the Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability of Ispra, was tasked to elaborate a scientific approach which could support the delimitation of agricultural areas with natural constraints. The expert panel identified a number of soil, terrain and climate biophysical criteria indicating, at a certain threshold value, severe limitations for standard European agriculture. The suggested criteria were presented in a Communication [COM(2009)161: 'Towards a better targeting of the aid to farmers in areas with natural handicaps'] in April 2009. In order to provide a solid basis for elaborating the required legislative proposal and to fully involve Member States in the delimitation process, the Council agreed to simulate the application, on the territory of all Member States, with national data, of the biophysical criteria listed in the Communication and to produce maps of the areas that would result under such simulations. Following these testing by Member States, the suggested criteria went through a wide ranging consultation (expert groups of the representatives of European Research Institutes and of the National Authorities, technical bilateral meetings between the Commission departments and the Member States) and an updated list of criteria was proposed, taking into account limitations encountered in Member States simulations (Updated common bio-physical criteria to define natural constraints in Europe)

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