EU should do more on agrodiversity, Commissioner warns

Panelists smiling before the start of EURACTIV's conference "Food security and climate change post-Covid - Improving the sustainability of EU agriculture." [EURACTIV/BALL]

Diversifying food production is key to strengthening the resilience of European agriculture and creating realistic business models for farmers in the coming years, according to EU’s agri-boss Janusz Wojciechowski.

Speaking at a EURACTIV event on climate change and its link with food security, the Polish Commissioner warned about the risks of concentrating the same type of production in single regions of Europe and the world.

“Agrodiversity is very important and we will support farmers who decide not to have one direction of production,” he said.

For the Commissioner, diversification plays a major role in reducing the exposure to economic crises triggered by the over-reliance on non-EU economic partners, as has recently happened with the Russian embargo and US tariffs.

“Some sectors in agriculture need to supply the animals across Europe, feed from across oceans, seasonal workers from outside the EU, and they are looking for the market in China… This is not good for food security,” he said.

He pointed out that the EU should do more on agriculture diversification in the future, but also that a part of the EU’s proposed long-term budget and the recovery plan are partially devoted to this.

“There is now a budget to make our agriculture more resilient and more diversified,” he concluded.

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It is very difficult to make EU’s main farm policy greener when figures on the bottom line are red, said budget Commissioner Johannes Hahn in an attempt to uphold the latest proposal of increased spending for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

F2F goes beyond Europe

A recurring theme in the debate was the external dimension of the EU’s flagship new food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

The strategy aims at making the EU’s food system a driving force for sustainability worldwide, and leading the global transition through “green alliances” and trade policy.

“One of the things climate change has taught us is we really can’t have a plan that is focused on one part of the world,” said Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

She welcomed the renewed EU focus on private partnerships in the F2F, as they could help farmers getting access to new markets but also provide them with what they really need in order to be able to produce.

Jeroen Douglas, executive director at Solidaridad Network, expressed his appreciation for the Commission’s “stimulus package” on food sustainability but acknowledged that Europe will keep importing foodstuff from third countries, despite the willingness to rely more on short supply chain solutions in a circular format.

Douglas proposed a principle he called ‘glocality’, which could also foster the sector transformation outside Europe and help small-scale, relatively poor farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

“It is clear that Europe has a mission even beyond its boundaries,” he said.

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Plant health is the key

For Tassos Haniotis, director for strategy, simplification and policy analysis at the Commission’s DG AGRI, the big challenge ahead is to find diverse answers to diverse problems.

“Not all parts of the world are the same, not all parts of Europe are either. Not even all parts within a single member state are the same,” he stressed.

“There are parts of the European soils where you need to use more fertilizer and others when you need less,” he said and proposed focusing on soil health and plant health.

Haniotis also said the EU should rely more on what science could deliver, but at the same time, it should be aware that there are significant gaps in the knowledge and the transfer of knowledge.

“And that’s where the role of regaining the trust in public institutions becomes extremely important,” he said.

Erik Frywald, CEO of the Syngenta Group, agreed that the industry has a part in closing these knowledge gaps by learning more about soil health.

“It is important to have open and transparent discussions about plant health and what products are safe and how to use them the best way,” he said.

Organic

Commissioner Wojciechowski also insisted that the promotion of organic farming should be “one of the main priorities of the European Union for the next 7-10 years.”

He confirmed the Commission is preparing an action plan by the end of this year to find financial instruments for organic farmers but also to increase consumer demand for organic products.

However, AGRA’s Agnes Kalibata disagreed with the potential of organic agriculture to feed people in Africa, warning it will come at a huge cost for biodiversity.

Syngenta’s Frywald said his group supports organic agriculture but does not believe organic alone can serve the EU’s ambitions when it comes to addressing climate change and assuring sufficient healthy, affordable food.

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On the back of growing concern over the target for 25% of EU farmland to be farmed organically by 2030, EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski has lent the plan his support and stressed it is achievable. But farmers are still concerned that, as it stands, supply may well outstrip demand, which they say could “kill” the sector.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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