The EU’s new Farm to Fork strategy is a good start towards a ‘just transition’ in European farming, but what will it mean for farmers in the Global South, asks Isabelle Brachet.
Isabelle Brachet is senior EU advocacy adviser at ActionAid
At a time where more than 800 million people go to bed hungry every day and the Covid-19 crisis is further threatening food security, the European Commission has released its new Farm to Fork Strategy, which promises to make agriculture fairer and greener within the EU’s borders, but also further afield.
Overall, the strategy is a good starting point for an urgently needed ‘just transition’ towards a food system that respects the environment, the climate and ensures decent livelihoods for producers and farm workers.
Actions proposed cover a broad range of areas, from reducing chemical pesticides and fertilisers to promoting healthier diets, reducing food waste and increasing organic farming. But while going in the right direction, the proposals do not go far enough to meet the immense environmental, health and social challenges posed by European farming.
The farm to fork strategy will also impact farmers and agriculture in the Global South in four ways. Firstly, the EU will use development funding to support key areas such as research and innovation, land governance, climate adaptation and agroecological farming practices that work with nature and are climate resilient. ActionAid hopes this will help improve the land rights of women farmers, secure the livelihoods of smallholders and scale up agroecology.
Secondly, the EU will table a law to prevent products associated with deforestation from being imported to Europe, such as soybeans from the Amazon. This is a very positive step as Europe’s consumption significantly contributes to deforestation worldwide. But in addition to regulating imports, we also need to reduce our overall consumption of products contributing to deforestation, including feed for livestock farming, and eating less and better meat.
Thirdly, the EU will promote the global transition to sustainable food systems in international spaces, such as the United Nations. Commitment to multilateralism and cooperation with other countries to address shared challenges is crucial. ActionAid also believes that the EU has a role to play in helping to guarantee that those spaces are open to civil society organisations and small-scale farmers’ organisations, and not dominated by powerful agribusinesses with vested interest in the status quo. The EU and its member states should also become more vocal advocates for agroecological practices that are better for people, nature and the climate.
Lastly, the EU will use its trade deals to encourage partner countries to respect European standards on food and farming. This makes sense – although up until now the expansion of global value chains has translated into companies sourcing labour where it is cheapest rather than exporting higher ethical standards.
Where Farm to Fork falls short, is in its failure to acknowledge the tension between promoting international trade in food and agriculture, with the need to promote and protect local food systems, short food supply chains, where there are no or few intermediaries between producers and consumers, and small-scale food producers. Neither is there a word about the impact of international trade on climate change and the environment, an issue persistently ignored by our governments.
Some decision-makers in Europe seem to believe that questioning the trade liberalisation mantra threatens the European project. ActionAid does not believe this to be the case. The EU can embody a different vision of the global economy, focused on protecting people and the planet, rather than opening markets at all costs. The EU can be about cooperation and equality rather than competition and austerity. Some of the social protections countries are bringing in as a result of Covid-19 are already showing us how.
As the world deals with the impacts of the pandemic, we cannot forget that climate change is harming agriculture, and industrial farming is hurting the planet, more than ever before. It is time to ramp up Europe’s ambition on creating fairer and greener food systems.