This article is part of our special report Sustainable farming ambitions: between the CAP and the Green Deal.
The EU must up the ante when it comes to innovation if it is to align high levels of agricultural production with the vision of a more sustainable future, as set out in the Green Deal, according to EU lawmakers, who warn that the bloc is “lagging behind”.
At a recent European Parliament AGRI Committee debate on enabling innovation and new technologies for sustainable farming, the head of the research and innovation at DG AGRI, Kerstin Rosenow, highlighted the importance of knowledge and innovation as “key drivers and enablers in accelerating the transition to sustainable, healthy and inclusive agri-food systems”.
“They can help develop and test new solutions that we really need to address today’s sustainability challenges also in relation to or much more accentuated by the Green Deal, and overcome barriers and uncover new market opportunities,” she stressed.
Likewise, speaking before reporters at his first AGRIFISH Council of EU-27 ministers as Italy’s farming minister, Stefano Patuanelli also highlighted the importance of innovation in the green transition.
“I believe there are reasons to think that agriculture can make that leap towards greater productivity and income that could be then better distributed in the supply chain through innovation.”
This need to innovate is addressed in the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, which highlights that research and innovation (R&I) are key drivers in accelerating the transition to sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems from primary production to consumption.
As part of this drive, the strategy proposes to spend €10 billion on R&I in the sector, as well as on the use of digital technologies and nature-based solutions for agri-food.
Fostering innovation is also a key priority of the reform of the EU’s farming subsidies programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
“The CAP of the future will both encourage increased investment in research and innovation and enable farmers and rural communities to benefit from it,” according to the Commission.
The Commission has also committed to work with member states to strengthen the role of innovation in their CAP national strategic plans, with the aim to “incentivise the structuring and organisation of the national innovation ecosystem”.
However, while the need to innovate to achieve these ambitious goals is clear, MEPs have flagged concerns that the EU is “lagging behind” in certain areas.
‘Bottleneck’ for innovation
Speaking during the AGRI Committee debate, right-wing MEP Mazaly Aguilar raised a concern that, by imposing new restrictions on the agricultural sector without offering new opportunities, the EU risks becoming an “agricultural museum”.
Due to outdated and restrictive approaches, she added, there is a “bottleneck” for certain types of innovation, such as innovative approaches to genetic engineering.
Likewise, socialist MEP Juozas Olekas highlighted that Europe is “really lagging behind the rest of the world” when it comes to plant breeding innovations.
Stakeholders also raised the need for innovation in a range of other areas, including animal husbandry and innovative solutions to save on natural resources such as water and soil nutrients.
Renew Europe’s Adrián Vaquez Lazara highlighted that there is a gap between the Farm to Fork ambitions and the reality on the ground, querying whether the strategy includes sufficient tools to ensure that the primary sector can achieve the necessary technological transition.
EU ‘cannot miss the boat’
In response, Yvonne Colomer, executive director of the Triptolemos Foundation in Spain, which works towards the creation of a sustainable global food system, stressed that the EU “cannot miss the boat”.
“We cannot afford to fall behind. We will regret it if we do. And we’ll see it will have huge economic consequences,” she warned.
“To ensure the sustainability of our agriculture, farmers must have the freedom to choose the tools and practices that are best suited to their specific needs and agricultural environments,” she added.
According to Colomer, excluding tools that can help them do their job properly or contribute to this within a systems-based approach could prove “dangerous”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]