Berlin agriculture conference highlights world hunger, climate change

Klöckner has herself come under domestic fire from the German Green party, which says the minister failed to stand up in the EU for the climate ambitions she negotiated at the national level. [BMEL/photothek.de]

The international conference of agriculture ministers in Berlin on Friday (22 January) focused on finding solutions in times of crisis, like the current pandemic and the subsequent humanitarian catastrophe, and called for combatting world hunger, climate change, and potential new pandemics. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Seventy-six ministers of agriculture from around the world and representatives of 13 international organisations met virtually at an annual summit headlining the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, titled “Pandemics and climate change: How do we feed the world?”

As host, Germany’s agriculture minister Julia Klöckner announced the key talking points and presented the joint final communiqué, which focused on the pandemic and its impact on the agricultural sector.

She cited 130 million additional people suffering from hunger due to the pandemic, adding “at the same time, the coronavirus teaches us about the levers we need to pull to fight hunger.”  Food availability and affordability must be guaranteed to reduce the number of people suffering from hunger worldwide, Klöckner said.

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The pandemic and the food supply

“The vaccine against hunger is food,” said United Nations World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasly, bridging the gap between global hunger caused by regional food shortages and the pandemic. With this phrase, he alluded to the lack of access to food in parts of the Global South.

At the beginning of the pandemic, restricted mobility fuelled enormous concerns about food shortages in individual regions of the world. A total of 40 countries are unable to produce enough food themselves due to insufficient agricultural land.

The efficient movement of goods is therefore essential in the global fight against hunger.

Tobias Reichert, agricultural policy and global trade officer at the Berlin-based think tank Germanwatch, estimated that the impact of the pandemic on cross-border supply chains will be smaller than initially feared.

However, he said, the economic crisis in some countries and the impact on people’s incomes is all the more critical for the global food supply. He told EURACTIV Germany that grain transport by ship could continue as usual and worse scenarios could be thus prevented.

Preventing future pandemics

The Berlin conference also focused on ways to prevent future pandemics. The German Environment Ministry stated that 70% of the new pathogens that have appeared in humans in the last 30 years originate from animals.

In the final declaration, the conference participants agreed on a holistic approach to improving the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment. This strategy aims to minimise the risk of zoonoses – diseases transmitted from animals to humans – in the future.

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Climate catastrophe drives global hunger

The most important topic, however, was man-made climate change and its impact on global food production, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres named climate change as one of the biggest challenges in tackling global famine.

He also announced a UN food summit later this year, the “2021 UN Food Systems Summit”, to decide on concrete measures. There, global measures could be decided at the very highest decision-making level.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski called for global efforts and more international agricultural policy cooperation.

“These are global problems, so we need global solutions,” he told the conference, calling for greater efforts to improve sustainability. For example, transport distances for food should be reduced, and food should be produced more locally and diversified to reduce emissions from production.

In addition to the digitalisation of agriculture, solutions through innovation and combatting forest dieback, agroforestry is also mentioned in the final declaration as an effective method for reducing emissions in agriculture. This sees land being used to grow both trees and shrubbery as well as for crops or livestock.

Reichert confirmed to EURACTIV Germany the global potential of this form of land use: “In many countries of the global South, agroforestry is already much further along than in Europe.”

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Policy recommendations do not lead to action

Accordingly, Reichert saw the objectives of the conference and the final declaration as promising.

However, he warned that the recommendations after such summits rarely lead to agricultural policy measures. In the statements, the importance of climate and sustainability are always strongly emphasised, he said, but if you look at the instruments, you see that little changes in this respect. “You can’t expect much to change there either.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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