Spanish agri minister: EU’s rural areas face ‘most difficult moment of the century’

This article is part of our special report How the Ukraine war is reshaping the CAP.

The EU countryside is facing the most challenging moment of the century, the Spanish Minister of Agriculture Luis Planas told EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro, adding that Spain aims to secure food supply while guarding its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plan’s green ambitions.

“We lived for a few years with markets that worked like clockwork from a logistical point of view until 2020. First, because of COVID-19 and then with the war, we live the most difficult moment, and the big question is how we can fix this together, with a spirit of lending hands,” the minister said.

As the war in Ukraine – an important supplier for Spain – created a new “uncertainty factor”, Planas said guaranteeing agricultural production is a “priority” but “without losing the circular orientation” of economies and, in particular, agri-food production.

A reverse trend, according to the minister, “would lead to the depletion of available resources on the planet.”

The minister stressed his focus is on ensuring food supply, accounting for rising energy prices, decreased production, and the effects of the war on blocking exports via the Black Sea, while also maintaining the strategic course of “producing more with fewer natural resources.”

“It is not a dilemma because we are clear about where we are heading, and this is the noting that in 2050 around 10 billion people will need to be fed by an agricultural area that will “hardly” grow and a herd of cattle that is not going to increase.

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Increasing food production in Europe is a priority in light of the Ukraine war, according to the EU’s agri-boss, who detailed how the European Commission encourages member states can do this through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

CAP plan, the ‘most important design’

The European Commission sent back the first evaluation of the Spanish CAP national strategic plan for 2023-2027 on 31 March.

Through these plans, EU countries set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the reformed CAP.

Planas called it the “most important design” for Spanish farming since the stabilisation plan of 1959, back before the EU farming subsidies programme existed.

To meet this growing challenge, Spain will bet on innovation and digitisation and technologies such as gene editing to increase production “in a sustainable way”, Planas said.

Spain will receive €47.724 million from the 2023-2027 CAP budget, rising to €55 million with additional support from the Next Generation EU, the temporary instrument designed to boost the bloc’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Brussels has recommended that Spain change the plan to increase the environmental effort and consider the new situation due to the war in Ukraine.

Spain hopes to meet the deadlines and will ask the EC to approve the final version of the strategic plan in the first half of 2022 to give farmers some certainty ahead of the autumn planting.

Latest decisions

During the most recent meeting of the EU agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, member states agreed to communicate data on private stocks of grains and oilseeds meant as a first step to creating a European emergency agricultural reserve.

Planas welcomed this and pointed out that although the food supply is guaranteed, Spanish consumers notice increasing prices.

The Spanish Consumer Price Index (CPI) for March rose by 6.8% year-on-year, with edible oil prices (+32.1%) skyrocketing.

The Spanish Government has complemented EU measures against the crisis in Ukraine with a royal decree-law, within the framework of the CAP national plan, to respond to the economic and social consequences of the war in Ukraine.

This plan includes €93.47 million for the agricultural and livestock sector.

EU food supply will remain secure, but less accessible for Europe's poorest

Food supply is not at stake in the EU despite the ongoing war in Ukraine, but soaring food prices may mean low-income households struggle to access it, according to the European Commission’s new communication on food security.

[Edited by Natasha Foote/Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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