Corsica is a mountainous French island of 8,772 km² located between the Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian seas. Its population of 300,000 has been growing steadily over the last decades. Corsican agriculture mainly consists of small ruminant dairy farming and beef cattle ranching in the mountains and hills, with arboriculture and wine growing on the coastal plains. The 45,025 ha study area Castagniccia includes 69 municipalities located far from urban areas in the middle of the North-eastern Corsican Mountains. The area is mountainous, from 200 to 1,767 m a.s.l. with steep slopes along the river bodies. Soils are rocky but can be locally deep and are generally not too dry because of the presence of shale. Soils fit very well to the Chestnut tree cultivation.
There is a small and aged permanent population (less than 10 inhabitants per km²). About 15% of the adult population works in agriculture, while tourism remains a very secondary activity. Agriculture today is very extensive and this extensification is encouraged by the land abandonment that has occurred over the past decades. Agriculture mainly consists of beef cattle farming for meat, small ruminant dairy farming (sheep and goats), pork farming (under abandoned chestnut orchards) and chestnut growing, the latter being historically the typical production of the region. Agricultural holdings operate a low level of capitalization on livestock production, combining this with, in the case of dairy small ruminants, pork and/or chestnut production, or with systems of processing (cured meats, cheese, chestnut flour and pastry) and marketing (direct sales) of almost the entire production.
CAP measures are very important for the maintenance of farming as a whole. They consist of first pillar measures intended to encourage production and second pillar measures designed to encourage the maintenance of farms for territorial and environmental purposes. Among the first pillar measures, animal premiums are the most relevant to our study area. Until 2013 (one year after the end of our survey), coupled payments were:
- The suckler cow premium granted to farmers according to the number of cattle they have the year before payment.
- The sheep annual payment granted according to the number of adult dairy ewes;
- The goat payment granted according to the number of adult dairy goats.
As of the 2002 CAP reform, some payments have been decoupled from production, which means they are granted to farmers under a condition of area size. These decoupled payments are called Single Farm Payments (SFPs) calculated for every farm per hectare based on historical reference.
Among the second pillar measures, the only payment relevant to our case is the Less Favored Area allowances (LFA). These are granted per hectare up to a ceiling of 50 ha. Since our study pastures are mainly composed of scrub, the "prime herbagère agro-environementale" (PHAE - horizontal French grass premium) and other Agri-environmental local schemes (AES) designed to maintain meadows are little applied in Castagniccia, and for this reason are not considered here. Actually, the Corsican AES is designed to focus on grassland maintenance. It does not apply to chestnut orchards or to rangelands, the most common landscapes of the Corsican mountain areas and in particular Castagniccia (grasslands being concentrated in low lands and valley bottoms).
The present landscape of Castagniccia was inherited from an ancient agrarian system based on terrace cultivation and chestnut growing. This agrarian system disappeared at the beginning of the 20th century. It was very manpower-intensive and therefore led to very high population density (more than 100 inhabitants / km² in the 19th century) and large surpluses. This explains the extensive agricultural remains (orchards, terraces), old houses and religious buildings still visible. Since the collapse of traditional agriculture, the trend has been to a decrease in population and to replacing cultivation by breeding: the trend is thus towards extensification, almost abandonment. This extensification of farming is focused on two species: beef cows and pigs (both local breeds crossed with generic breeds), "valorising" a widely extended landscape with no human intervention. Farm production is truly valorised when products are homemade and sold direct by farmers. Attempts to restore the orchards that give the name Castagniccia to the entire area are not very widespread, due to lack of manpower, although such projects are generally successful. But in addition to "chestnut restoration", the prevention of fire requires manpower in the western part of the region, where it is a prime source of public employment. Despite the general abandonment, the landscape continues to attract tourists, especially in summer. They are looking for traditional, typical villages, products (although summer is not the period when traditional products are produced and consumed), the coolness and shade of deciduous trees (though chestnut trees are sometimes replaced by alder trees).
Half of the territory is forested. Chestnuts trees (former orchards) are the first forest species. Maquis, conifers and scrubs are more important in the western part of the area. Arable land and "visible" cultures and grasslands gather less than 5 % of the area. But the area actually used by livestock (meat cows, pigs, flocks) is much larger. The main landscape features are (i) historical villages; (ii) chestnut orchards (one third of the entire area); (iii) rocks and mountains; and the Maquis and rangelands often located in ancient terraces.
The most important function of the landscape is the feeding function of the livestock grazing freely the rangelands (pigs, ewes and goats, beef). The regional and typical products deriving from theses livestock units are sold in the entire Island and also outside Corsica. The image of the pig "free under the chest nut" is very well-known. But locally fights occur between pig holders and the local population. A problem exists also with cow breeders because of free grazing in Maquis, chestnuts roads, etc. This conflict expresses a contradiction between the production function and the Identity function that this landscape has for the inhabitants. There is some recreational function of the landscape due to tourism in summertime. However, only a few seaside tourists visit the Castagniccia. Also city residents (and often originating the area) visit the area for weekends and holidays.
The present landscape contribute to a large extend to economic benefits. There is a direct contribution through livestock breeding. However, it is questionable whether free grazing of orchards and Marquis is not sustainable from the social (non-involvement of land owners) and ecological point of view. Here chestnut (orchard) farming to produce chestnut flour and secondary livestock holding (pork, goats) would represent a more environmental sound practice. And finally the inherited landscape generates profit through the attraction of rural tourism. The presence of hotels and restaurants are clearly second order effects for rural viability and tourism (e.g. retired people and other originating people to stay there ever in winter when the conditions are the harshest).
Despite the fact that the Castagniccia used to have a viable rural economy, it nowadays represents a poorer area in comparison to the Corsican average. Population is migrating away. Therefore it can be assumed that the advantages of the landscape, which is supposed to generate benefits and competitiveness, are lower than the handicaps generated by the landscape (specially the handicaps due to the predetermined features). These handicaps are mainly (i) the remoteness (1.5 h driving distance to Bastia, the only big city of north Corsica); (ii) frequent snow falls in winter; (iii) small roads, and (iv) the difficulty to use machinery that avoids keeping up most orchards.
L. Delattre, F. Guéniot, L. Leonelli, M. Mouléry, C. Napoléone, J.C. Paoli, P. Santucci.
INRA Laboratoire pour le développement de l’élevage, CORTE, Corsica, France, and INRA Unité Ecodev, AVIGNON, Provence, France