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

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FFA2019 – The next generation
14th Feb 2019
Janez Potočnik

Creating fully sustainable food systems is vital for the survival of this planet and our species. The leadership we show – or do not show – today will have severe consequences not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. In every sense of the word, we currently hold the fate of the next generation in our hands; from halting and reversing climate change, to creating new opportunities and technologies, and to reshaping our food chain from farm to fork.

Tens of thousands of Belgian schoolchildren and many more around the world believe the same. For the past few weeks they have been marching past my office, demanding that that their government and Europe takes serious action on climate change. They ask, ‘why should I go to school if my future is at risk?’. They are right to ask, and right to strike. They do not want to be the first generation living in a world unbalanced by rising temperatures; it is our duty to make sure they do not.  Those in charge today are failing them; our action on climate change is far too slow, and seemingly unable to provide the systemic changes we know we need.

However, we cannot make the serious changes we need without revising the incentive structures of modern finance that dominates so much of our modern politics and discourse. Today, we over-value our financial capital, under-value our human capital and do not value our natural capital at all. To fund the next generation of innovation properly, and to do so within the constraints of our planetary resources and ecosystems, we must invert these values; planet should come first, if we want to secure the future for us, people, and profit only as a secondary motive. However, such a transition will not be easy, or without severe changes to our current economic models, and we must take care not to harm those caught by its effects.

Farmers and businesses cannot make these changes, and many more, alone. All of us have both an individual and collective responsibility.  From throwing out a bag of unused carrots to our eating habits, the next generation of consumers will – by necessity or design – need to feed itself in new, more sustainable ways. Whether through eating less meat, making food choices on the basis of sustainability as well as affordability, or through demanding true sustainability of the products we buy, it is clear that the ground is shifting; people are demanding more and making better choices. This can only be for the good.

At the end of the day, much will still depend on our farmers and land managers. Our decisions as citizens, consumers and individuals rebound on what they produce, and how they produce it. More than most, they are equally attuned to financial markets, our dining choices, as well as the state of our ecosystems. Any serious reforms that will create sustainable food systems must be created with the buy-in of the current and future generation of farmers. Through the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU maintains a huge amount of influence over current and future farming and land use, and remains its best-funded tool for creating the change we need. The current reform - which finally introduces real targets – is a step in the right direction, but it will not be enough.

The FFA has always been about the future. About looking past the troubles of today and seeing the trends that will shape our policies and practices.  We will not resolve these issues in one day on April 9; that work is beyond us. What we can, must, and will do however, is to treat the issues outlined above seriously. To do this, the FFA will bring in more partners to ensure that the vision for a more sustainable food system draws on all our collective creativity, experience and innovative capacity, and that we chart our path to achieving this together.

Right now, we cannot pretend that all is well, and that our current trajectory is even remotely sustainable in any sense of that word. This is why this year we are dedicating FFA2019 to the next generation – they will live in the world we (re)shape today.

Janez Potočnik