Green farming ambitions must not lose sight of bigger picture, experts warn

Highlighting the interlinked nature of agrifood systems, the chief economist of the FAO stressed that there is “nothing that can be done in one region without affecting other regions and vice versa”. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

While policies aiming to green the EU’s farming system should be welcomed as a step in the right direction, they must also show coherence and understanding of the global picture, experts have warned.

Speaking during a recent EURACTIV event, Maximo Torero, the chief economist of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, stressed that multilateralism and solidarity have taken on new importance in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But this requires “coherence in policies and some understanding of how things are happening across the world,” he said, highlighting the need to better understand the potential global ramifications of proposed agricultural policies. 

His comments come on the back of mounting concerns over the lack of an impact assessment on the effects of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

The strategy, which is central to the EU’s Green Deal, sets out a roadmap of how to accelerate the EU’s transition to a sustainable food system.

However, despite being released in May of this year, to date an impact assessment has yet to be carried out on the wider effects of the policy on the sector.

“Common sense would also dictate that we know how the numbers behind these targets were decided, and how they will impact our production, the environment, consumer prices, our food security, and our exports,” Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of EU farmers association COPA-COGECA, wrote in a recent op-ed on the matter. 

Commission official: Farm to Fork to be steadily evaluated in its implementation

No impact assessment of the pivotal EU’s food policy as such is in the pipeline but each measure in the strategy will be separately evaluated, a Commission official ensured.

Coordination is key

Highlighting the interlinked nature of agrifood systems, Torero stressed that there is “nothing that can be done in one region without affecting other regions and vice versa”.

“So I think the Green Deal can bring ways of transforming the food system that can be learned and can be scaled up. But we need to be open and flexible and we need to see where the major challenges our regions are different,” he said, emphasising that the policies and pathways to sustainability will be different in each area. 

He added that there must be an appreciation of the environment as a public good and, as such, there is a need to “find ways in which we can optimise at the global level” in order to use resources in the best possible way.

“But if we don’t coordinate across [regions], I think the differences will be big. And that’s where we need to try to minimise those differences and to create mechanisms of competition and which is fair under the same grounds, and which allows us also to create a better flow of trade, both globally, but also regionally,” he said, warning that this is something that must be addressed carefully. 

Bigger picture

Likewise, Frank Ewert, scientific advisory board chair of the EU’s joint programming initiative on agriculture, food security and climate change (FACCE-JPI), pointed to the need to keep the global picture in mind. 

While some solutions can be local, we “have to have an eye on the global picture and what changes in our food system in our agriculture food system actually mean at the global scale,” he warned, highlighting the need to fully understand the consequences of shifting production.

“This is something that we need to discuss in Europe, how we find other ways of organising production and demand for certain products, but also to interact with producers globally to find ways of designing together and developing together to find production systems that work for all,” he said.

This can only be done globally, he added. 

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[Edited by Benjamin Fox]


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