European agriculture can phase out pesticides, reduce its impacts on climate and biodiversity while ensuring food security for Europeans, French researchers Pierre-Marie Aubert and Xavier Poux told a conference held in Paris on 13 September.
“We are presenting an alternative scenario that can lead to a large scale transformation of the agricultural sector via the agroecological transition,” Pierre-Marie Aubert told the audience gathered at the amphitheater of AgroParisTech.
Pierre-Marie Aubert and Xavier Poux are researchers for French think tank Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (Iddri).
The two researchers were presenting the ten-year scenario they they referred to as Tyfa (Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe).
The question they asked is how to feed Europe while preserving the environment and climate against the backdrop of the decline of production currently observed in organic farming.
“The current debate on the future of agriculture has stalled because of the impossibility to combine the rise of agricultural production on the one hand and the reduction of the impacts on climate and biodiversity on the other,” explained Pierre-Marie Aubert.
“To overcome this apparent opposition, we have chosen to reverse the question and we therefore asked what are the needs of the Europeans for a healthy and sustainable food and what are the agricultural models for it?”
This is why the starting point of the report focuses on the health impact that results from the current eating habits of the Europeans.
“In terms of health, diet-related diseases are growing at an alarming rate (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases),” the study states.
“Although we produce a lot in Europe, we eat too much and our diets are unbalanced in relation to the nutritional recommandations of the European Food Safety Organisation (Efsa) and the World Health Organisation (WHO),” it continues.
Yet, there is a growing demand from customers for organic products throughout Europe, which shows they are more and more concerned about the relation between their health and the food they eat, Pierre-Marie Aubert observed.
The scenario therefore starts by rebalancing the European diet: more cereals, fruits and vegetables, protein crops and less meat, eggs, fish and dairy products.
“From there on, our study shows that an agroecological Europe is able to feed Europeans in 2050, reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and recover biodiversity,” Pierre-Marie Aubert said.
This implies phasing-out pesticides and other agricultural inputs to instead adopting green agricultural practices such as crop rotation, using manure to fertilise soils, as well as ecological infrastructures such as hedges, ponds, trees or low walls.
Production drop of between 10 to 50%
This scenario leads to a 10-50% decrease in productivity depending on the crops, the study finds.
“So yes, this means less benefits for farmers but these losses can be offset by the money they save for having to buy a lot less agricultural inputs,” Pierre-Marie Aubert said.
The French academic stressed that not only the agroecological scenario enables the European agricultural sector to feed the continent’s customers, but it also preserves its export capacity for cereals, dairy products and wine. And it will strongly reduce its dependence on agricultural goods imports.
“Today, the European Union imports the equivalent of 35 millions hectares of farmland, essentially soya from South America used to feed cattle,” the expert underlined.
Iddri describes itself as an independant policy research institute and a multi-stakeholder dialogue platform whose aim is to identify the conditions and proposes tools to put sustainable development at the heart of international relations and public and private policies.
European Commission’s DG Agri has in the recent years contracted Iddri to lead several research projects on sustainable farming, not including the one released this 13 September.
The institute was created in 2001 by one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, European Climate Foundation CEO Laurence Tubiana.
From 2014, Teresa Ribera Rodríguez directed the institute before joining Spain’s Sanchez government as Minister for the ecological transition in June 2018.