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FFA2019 : The next generation
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Square, Brussels

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FFA2019 post-event blog 6:
Financing sustainability: What is growth in the 21st century?

29th Apr 2019

Finance panel at FFA2019

Keynote speaker Wiebe Draijer, Chairman of the Managing Board, Rabobank, identified the need for the food and agriculture system to adapt to climate change as the major challenge facing farming.

This requires “a systems change to the whole food supply system where all the actors move in the direction in one go,” he explained. A key lever in that change are rules and regulations. “I am a fan of regulation. We simply need a lot of it in the systems change that is now ahead.”

Another lever is the current reform of the EU’s common agricultural policy. This should focus on “the biggest incentive to make the system change towards mitigation of the climate effects and adaptation” to the consequences that are inevitable. Agriculture’s optimal function should be to help feed the world nutritiously and sustainably. “That is the equation that we need to optimise as a bank, as a farming community, as a regulator.”

Emmanuel De Merode, Director, Virunga National Park, said he had initially thought financial sustainability meant raising the $11 million a year needed to manage the park. Gradually, he realised the real definition is “social acceptance over the long term”. The park, he explained, contains two million acres of potentially very fertile agricultural terrain and is surrounded by four million farmers in desperate need of land. It “has been set aside for conservation for the sake of the whole of humanity to benefit from the extraordinary wildlife”.

Attracting investment for more sustainable production systems is difficult. These require time. “Financial instruments are just not geared up for that. People still want too short a return on those investments to really integrate sustainability.”

Alexander El Alaoui, Director of Sustainable Investments Salm-Salm & Partner stressed that the Paris climate agreement is a legally binding contract. “It says on a global level capital flows have to shift from brown to green,” he said. However, many institutions, despite earlier promises, are not divesting from oil, gas and coal.

As Rabobank does with farmers, Salm-Salm analyses the sustainability of a company’s underlying business model by examining its footprint (past impact) and handprint (future impact) as it reshapes itself for a circular economy.

“We have to put sustainability at the core, even of our financial analysis, because it is a way we can see whether a company will survive. There is no lack of finance, it is just the way we have to shift it,” he said.

Jeremy Oppenheim, Founding Partner, SYSTEMIQ, representing the Food and Land Use Coalition, agreed with Mr Draijer on the need for a fundamental shift in the food system and for policies and rules.

“If we do not get the right kind of changes in our subsidy regime, we will struggle to get the big shifts in the system we need.” Other forces for innovation and change can come from civil society, progressive businesses and financial institutions and use of social media to inform the public.

One trillion dollars per year over the next decade is needed to transform the food and land use system. It should be divided equally between rebuilding natural capital, investing in farmers and food entrepreneurs and improving operating practices. The sum represents just 1% of global GDP, Mr Oppenheim stressed, and the money exists “with half of it sitting in misallocated public subsidies”.

Watch videos of all the sessions at FFA2019 here >