Dear friends, welcome to another edition of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture and I am delighted to be talking to you in the Czech Republic.
The raison d’etre of the Forum for Agriculture is to bring all of us together, policy makers, farmers, NGOs, industries, and academics to see if we can find ways to break down our silos and transform our food system, together.
I don’t believe I need to convince you all here today of the urgency for such a transformation, for all our sectors – energy, transport, infrastructure and so on. I think we all recognise that the current predominant system of production, and consumption, is unsustainable both for the climate, and the environment.
The war in Ukraine has only worked to expose the vulnerabilities of the food system and the urgency to build resilience for the long run. Ukraine and Russia combined are important producers of wheat, barley, maize, sunflower seeds and oils and natural gas. Export bans and the effect of conflict on trade routes and ability to plant and process crops has led to a worldwide fear of a global food and energy crisis. This combined with increasing transport costs may prevent countries that were reliant on imports from Ukraine, such a Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt, and low-income counties with high import dependency ratios across Africa and Asia, from procuring sufficient food supplies. This is an enormous concern. And inevitably perhaps, as there was at the start of the COVID crisis, there are cries from some corners to ramp up production in Europe, to plough up areas designated for nature to grow and replace the shortfall in livestock feed from Ukraine, and to support fertiliser producers to sustain production.
Whilst action clearly needs to be taken to allay potential terrible hunger down the line, we need to think very carefully about what action we take, because how we react to this crisis today, will determine how we fare during the next. The Ukraine war is not a climate related emergency, but if we don’t meet the 1.5 degrees climate target, nor halt biodiversity loss, be in no doubt, that global crisis will keep coming, and our systems will be less able to buffer the shocks. Solving the current conflict related crisis should not, and cannot, compromise our ability to tackle the triple planetary crises of climate emergency, biodiversity loss and pollution.
Now is not the time to call off the Green Deal, an ambitious and necessary policy framework, or question the good intentions and the vision included in the Farm to Fork document. Rather, the COVID crisis and the war on Ukraine have accelerated the need to transition our food system to one that is robust, sustainable, that restores and preserves biodiversity, reduces emissions, and sequesters carbon, and provides affordable, nutritious food for us all.
Let me reiterate some of the messages I have already shared during the main Brussels Forum event. Long term food security is not about ploughing up nature areas to grow more food for livestock. Livestock is an essential part of our farming system, but there is clear evidence that we are overconsuming and overproducing livestock products. Therefore, holding up and sustaining the size of the livestock sector does not contribute to long term food security.
Food security is about recognising that in western countries we continue to overconsume, at the expense of others. It is about prioritising food for direct human consumption over food produced for animal feed.
It is about taking a fresh look at marine production systems that can have the capacity to deliver multiple benefits. Aquaculture to produce seaweed and bivalves is a great option because these species absorb nutrients directly from their environment and therefore not dependant on feedstocks.
It is about amazing agricultural technologies, like precision agriculture, vertical farming, and production of meat analogues. They rely on expensive machinery, but we can see these technologies being offered to farmers through dematerialised product-as-a-service business models, which is again very encouraging. The emergence of these new business models in the food system are breaking away from engrained ways of thinking and working in order to create new or additional value through sustainability solutions, shared throughout the food chain. It is about our care for pollinators, and it is about our care for healthy soils. It is about how much of the food we still waste which, if you think about it, also means wasted water, energy, pesticides, fertilisers, and land used to produce that food. This is entirely unacceptable from an economic and environmental, but also ethical, perspective. But it is also about policies which are not directly related to food. It is, for example, about how much of the biofuels produced from food crops we use to fuel cars instead of feeding people, it is about how much of the fertile land we use for various expanding infrastructure projects, it is about how much of the fertile land is swallowed up by urban expansion and new space required by our inefficient resource consuming mobility systems. It is about ensuring our forests are protected and planted to withstand the climate change of the future and working together to link in sustainable biomass production into our value chains, whilst simultaneously supporting carbon sequestration and biodiversity … and I could continue.
All this is about food security!
This multiple approach may seem a long way from the economic counter-offensive – the single, swift response – that political and media logic demands. But it is less strange to those working to hold back the underlying planetary crisis. Here, the cumulative effect of many positive, system-changing decisions is almost the only thing keeping a stable and safe world within reach. While dealing with acute challenges, we are also facing an emerging chronical and systemic environmental and social crisis due to the overuse of natural resources and uneven and unfair distribution of their benefits. The triple planetary crisis is making instability the norm.
Natural resources are at the heart of our environmental and human health challenges. The use of materials – fossil fuels, metals, minerals, biomass, everything we extract from the Earth – has tripled since 1970 and accounts for a huge share of greenhouse gas emissions. In overusing Earth’s resources, and by distributing the benefits unfairly, our economic model is taking far more than the planet can sustainably give.
The problem is that humankind has never separated out economic growth from ever-rising demand for resources. As a result, we are now overstepping planetary boundaries, and locking ourselves out of the safe operating space in which human societies evolved. We must instead link resource use to fundamental human needs and optimize the systems that deliver them. We do not need a car, we need mobility, we do not need a chair, we need to sit comfortably, we do not need a fridge, we need fresh, healthy food. Much extracted material goes into under-utilised cars, inefficiently built cities, and poorly maintained machinery. If we look at our production and consumption through the lens of natural resource use, we can start to look at the transformation of the whole system, not just of a specific sector. We need to reject the assumption that these systems need to be so resource intensive.
As a university student, I was taught that economic theory is based on the rational behaviour of consumers and producers: the more we produce at the lowest possible price, the higher the capital returns and GDP growth. But what if the whole economic system was at fault? Undervalued human capital and, in many cases, not valued natural capital by our markets, are leading to systemic social and environmental imbalances. Imagine that for example, large food shopping centre customer, would enter the centre and not pay, at least not pay the full price, for the things taken home … the food shopping centre would soon get bankrupt. The same is happening to nature. Nature is a large eco-system getting bankrupt due to our behaviour. Our short-term rational behaviour is leading to a long-term irrational “charming mass suicide” as Arto Paasilinna titled one of his excellent novels.
Our international efforts to fight the climate crisis remain focused on, and driven by, the supply side. This, the recent IPCC report warns, will fail to limit warming to 1.5C. But authors add that demand-side mitigation could reduce global GHGs in some sectors by up to 70% by 2050. More fundamentally, demand-side measures get us closer to the human questions of responsibility and equity. High-income regions, including Europe, must take the lead. Resource efficiency should thus be complemented with sufficiency-based policies. Until then, ambitious policies such as the EU’s Green Deal and the UNFCCC’s targets face an uphill battle to implement incentives and regulations to change our production and consumption patterns. Sending policy signals one way, and market signals the other, is creating confusion (not to mention intense lobbying by companies that fear the loss of profitable markets). It’s time to stop signalling to producers that destroying natural capital is free of charge. Time to stop contradictory messages to consumers, who still routinely pay more for food with a low environmental impact, instead of the reverse.
I started today saying that the challenges we face for our climate, our biodiversity and our health no longer need to be laid out. The science is overwhelmingly pointing us in the direction for change. Many of us have sat at the Forum for Ag, and other conferences and heard the now often repeated phrase, that there is no time to lose, that we need to change. These are messages given with good intention, but if those intentions are not followed through, they only work to make us feel better in the moment and serve to lose us time in the long run.
I applaud the phenomenal amount of work that is being directed towards innovation to reduce the impact of our current system, but without full scale systems change, these innovations will not even touch the sides of what is needed to meet our climate and biodiversity targets.
Our young and future generations who face an existence tackling the devastating effects of our lack of action will judge us poorly. The current economic system, and system of agriculture has bought food security for millions, healthcare advances beyond what could have been imagined, allowed the creation of social security systems in many of our countries, which we are grateful for. But it has now run its course and no longer serves us well. It has left us with a climate emergency, the devastation of natural resources, a declining quality of life and ever-growing inequality. And so, there is little logic in clinging to a broken system.
Like it or not, the responsibility falls to us here to today, listening at home, working in companies, doing the weekly shop, sowing the seeds in the fields this spring. The burden has fallen upon our shoulders to transition how we produce, and how we consume, to save the world for those to come. And I don’t deny this will be difficult. Tough choices will have to be made, money reinvested, whole sectors restructured, and policies updated. But it is also an enormous opportunity to create an economic system, and a food system, that serves us ; that works to improve our quality of life, provide equality, and prepare us for the future.
Dear friends, to conclude. Making our fragile economies and societies more sustainable and resilient is our best defence against any future crises. In the longer term, food and energy security are not about opening a new economic front. They are, first of all, about reassessing our values, rethinking our economies and reducing overconsumption.
Standards and behaviour patterns linked to the current economic model were set by high-income countries. We are ethically bound to show the world that we are willing and able to change a reality we created, and to lead the essential transition – at home and globally. The map of resource use still shows the shadows of an imperialist world, where wealthy nations pursue their ambitions at the expense of others. A more stable and sustainably prosperous future will mean shifting to an era of responsible resource use, where benefits are more fairly shared, mitigating resource fragility and strengthening our preparedness and resilience. The more we avoid these strategic, sometimes difficult decisions, the more likely is that that we will soon face them again.
For the future we want we need a system-based approach: minimising trade-offs and future lock-ins and maximising co-benefits and synergies among all our efforts. Focusing only on cleaning the current production systems will unfortunately not be enough. We must enter the untapped territories of the needed deep system transformation. If we want to avoid extinction of elephants in nature, we need to extinct elephants in the rooms. According to the Dasgupta Review, our unsustainable engagement with Nature can be traced to institutional failure and the failure of contemporary economics to acknowledge that we humans are embedded within Nature, and not external to it. So, for the beginning, it would be good to agree that humans are part of nature and start behaving accordingly. I never forget to mention that we are the first generation facing the emergence of a single, tightly coupled human social-ecological system of planetary scope. We are more vulnerable, interconnected, and interdependent than ever.
And in the spirit of working together, I would like to take a moment to thank the wide variety of partners who come together to support the Forum and join the conversation on these crucial topics: the founding partners: The European Landowners’ Organization and Syngenta; our strategic partners: The Nature Conservancy, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Cargill, WWF and Thought for Food; Our international partner: The Chicago Council of Global Affairs and our supporting partners: The Friends of the Countryside, John Deere, Pepsico, Nestle, Indigo, The Rewe group, SYSTEMIQ and the RISE Foundation. And to thank Emma Mikosz and her extraordinary team for bringing us together today.
I wish you a fruitful conference and thank you for your attention.
Janez Potočnik, Chair ForumforAg 2022 and Chairman RISE, opened the final session of the Forum’s month-long series of events including the Annual Conference and various webinars to debate the future of food systems. He welcomed the fact all speakers had embraced the need for reform. To achieve that transformation, the whole food chain must be involved, not just farmers, and consumption, as well as production, must change, with both encouraged by proper market incentives. Mr Potočnik agreed on the need to develop short-term strategies to address global food security concerns sparked by the war in Ukraine, but not at the cost of a long-term strategy. “Unless we take urgent action now, our resilience to buttress inevitable future shocks will diminish and the effects will be worse and more widespread,” he warned.
Maciej Golubiewski, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, explained how the Commission is helping Ukrainian agriculture by facilitating land routes for its exports and providing diesel for its farmers. He was confident the EU would continue on the transformation path, while targeting short-term measures to help producers. He stressed that the EU was “ready to help those parts of the world that are really looking with fear at the possible consequences” of the war in Ukraine.
In a special interview, Robert Bonnie, United States Under Secretary of Agriculture, shared details of the administration’s climate smart commodities programme to boost livestock and grain production, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon. He emphasised the measurement, monitoring and verification features in the programme. “We are in essence asking the US taxpayer to come help our farmers, ranchers, forest owners put these practices in place,” he said, adding: “Our best argument is to have data and to demonstrate that this can actually work.”
Following on from the launch last November of the transatlantic platform for collaboration on agriculture, Under Secretary Bonnie described as “critically important” the exchange of information between EU and US scientists and farmers. “We are all in this together. I think there is a lot to learn.”
During an online discussion, Galina Peycheva-Miteva, a Bulgarian farmer successfully practising regenerative agriculture, pointed to the need for role models. “Farmers need practical evidence that the nature-positive approach will work economically before they try it on a large scale.” With agriculture being increasingly considered in the context of climate change, unlike ten years ago, she was optimistic about the future. However, she urged decision-makers “to help farmers bear the costs associated with transitioning to sustainable farming”.
Marie Brueser, Entrepreneurship Leader at Thought For Food, explained her organisation helps start-ups throughout the food system. While finance is essential, the experience of large companies and their support for new ideas is also needed. She too was optimistic about the way ahead. “We have the people, the capital, the technologies, the knowledge. All of that combined creates a really good set-up and really good solutions that will create what we need.” But the real question is: “Will be courageous enough to drive those forward?”
Jon Parr, President of Syngenta Crop Protection, and Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General, European Landowners’ Organization, co-founders of the Forum almost 15 years ago, reflected on the success it has had in creating a space for an open and constructive exchange on agriculture and the environment – once seen as mutually exclusive. Both pointed to its ability to bring together prominent practitioners from different disciplines.
Jon underlined the key contribution science can make, the need to “make sure we continue to talk about nurturing innovation to solve the equations that are currently not working for us” and the importance of discussion being followed by action.
Thierry noted how the Forum tries to build a bridge between the covid, climate and conflict crises to develop better understanding, and solutions, of their impact on society and food systems. This year’s Forum had aimed to give hope to farmers to ensure they “can find a way, not only to be accepted by society, to be useful to society, but also to be sufficiently profitable in their businesses”.
Presentation of the prestigious Land and Soil Management Award, which brought the ForumforAg 2022’s month-long events to a close.
The Land and Soil Management Award was launched in 2008 by the European Landowners’ Organization, under the auspices of the European Commission (DG Environment and the Joint Research Centre) and in association with the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU) of Vienna, Syngenta, as well as the Centre for Soil and Environmental Sciences of the Ljubljana University. Since then, the award jury has selected outstanding achievements throughout the EU in the field of sustainable soil and land management.
Prof Martin Gerzabek, Institute of Soil Research, Vienna, as president of the jury, announced that, from a field of 12, the Geographical Institute Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences in Budapest was this year’s winner for its long-term agricultural trials. “The jury was especially impressed by the long duration of the experiments of 19 years, which is not easy to achieve for a research institute,” he said.
Andrea Vettori, Member of Cabinet of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, explained that 60-70% of soil ecosystems in Europe are downgrading. “This is why many years ago, the European Commission, DG Environment, decided to partner with Syngenta and the European Landowners Organization to create the award.
He announced diplomas of recognition to two further projects: French farm Lo Biais al Maset, Albi, which has been applying agri-ecological measures for almost two decades and Gut&Bösel Keyline agroforestry, Germany, a regenerative organic farm that minimises soil erosion while enhancing biodiversity and careful use of water.
Pascal Lamy, President of the Paris Peace Forum, Vice President of Europe Jacques Delors, started the closing session by examining the future of agriculture in the context of global trade trends. He mentioned how previously, the debate had focused on the costs and benefits of protecting producers. That era is receding, mainly because prices for agriculture, and to some extent food, are on the medium to long-term rise. “I think we are now moving in what I call the era of precaution, much more than protection. Producers are not the main issue in agri-food policy.”
He identified three key factors – nature, health and security – as “the new set of objectives and targets in addressing the model of future farming and food in the European Union and this entails a transformation of the EU agri-food system”. This involves a move towards more regenerative agriculture, regulation to protect human health and adoption of the necessary precautionary measures to ensure availability and affordability of food. He made a clear distinction between food security, which he supports, and food sovereignty, which he does not. The first “is about providing food at an affordable price”. The second “is about producing what you eat”.
Pascal maintained that the Green Deal transition will require serious change in the common agricultural policy and that this had so far been “significantly overlooked”. The debate must be seen from a wider spectrum and involve a whole range of stakeholders.
The former World Trade Organization Director-General said that the impact of the war in Ukraine was a good example of what happens when global food markets are disrupted. He strongly advised against introduction of export restrictions which would simply make matters worse, particularly for countries heavily dependent on Russian and Ukrainian cereals.
In her address to the Forum, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations & Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, warned that every single Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is in danger, as finance is channelled into “short-term profit, rather than long-term resilience”. This affects SDG 3 which calls for ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all ages. “We must make healthy diets central to the transformation of food systems,” she said in a video message to the Forum, identifying ways this could be achieved.
Targeted investment is needed to improve food quality and diversity; the food and agricultural sectors must be supported to increase availability of diverse, safe and nutritious foods; a food systems approach can make healthy foods cheaper and ensure access to affordable, sustainable diets for all; and measures must be in place to withstand shocks such as pandemics and climate change. The UN Food Systems Summit identified over 2,000 solutions. “Let’s use these tools to transform food systems, nourish humanity and build a healthier and more sustainable world for all,” she said.
Janez Potočnik, Chair ForumforAg 2022 and Chairman RISE Foundation, bringing proceedings to a close, pointed out that the latest International Panel on Climate Change report made grim reading. “Climate-related impacts are heating the world at the high end of what most of us predicted and at an accelerated rate.” The choice ahead is either to use the small window of opportunity that exists to manage “the transition needed in an organised way or to wait till the consequences will force us to change. I do not need to explain to you what that will mean in real life.” He called for an intergenerational impact assessment to be mandatory for all policy proposals. After thanking all involved in the day’s events, he repeated his earlier plea for an end to “the insane war” and suffering in Ukraine. But finished on an upbeat note: “Despite everything, stay optimistic. One should never forget optimists live longer and better.”
During her keynote address, Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner, Health and Food Safety, European Commission, emphasised the accountability of each generation to its successors. “It is exactly for this reason that Europe simply cannot afford to make the mistake of scaling back our ambition to make our food systems, our agriculture, our food consumption more respectful to our planet,” she said in a recorded keynote address.
She set out the goals of a future EU food eco-system: making food systems more resilient, exploring new ways of involving citizens and stakeholders and introducing a sustainable food labelling framework. “Healthy people make for healthy economies and healthy societies.” The pathway ahead is clear, but for the much-needed transition to work, “we look to all stakeholders in the food chain as well as our global partners for strong involvement and engagement,” she told the Forum.
Silviu Popovici, CEO, PepsiCo Europe, speaking by remote connection, stated he was optimistic about the move towards healthier, more sustainable food because consumers, retailers, farmers and industry are all going in the same direction. He noted the company is drastically reducing the sugar content of soft drinks, working towards artificial-free products and using portion controls to nudge customers to eat less. “We are looking to transform the products we are selling to make healthier products a bigger part of our portfolio. We think that this transformation will make a massive difference in the way people eat and what they eat,” he predicted.
PepsiCo is experimenting with internalising the price of carbon to make employees aware of its cost when taking decisions. But Mr Popovici warned: “I think if you are factoring in externalities, our costs of doing business will go up and I don’t think the consumer will be ready to pay for it.”
Jack Bobo, Director, Global Food and Water Policy, the Nature Conservancy, observed that the food environment has changed considerably in recent decades. The average American now eats 20% more calories than in 1970. He called for a reshaping of that environment, so it works for, not against, healthy choices. “If we can make food taste good, people will just choose it. And more and more of the plate will become healthier and you won’t have to force people to do it. They will do it because they want to.”
He argued that the current debate should not be framed as if agriculture is the problem. Farmers have made major strides in efficiency and output. If the sector was still using 1960 techniques, “we would need one billion additional hectares of land to feed the world we have today,” adding: “I would frame it as agriculture is good and getting better, but not fast enough.”
Katrien Verbeke, CEO Let Us, helps forge links between small scale initiatives and bigger players to overcome gaps in the food system. “It is a lot about building relationships and thus building respect.” She worked on Belgium’s first urban food policy, in Ghent. It established a food council involving different voices in the food system. This was responsible for deciding the direction the city should go and how to use its budget. Cities are taking the lead in this area as they are close to their local eco-system and the wellbeing of their citizens, not making money, is their priority. She called on companies to be more purpose, rather than dollar, driven, and suggested they too should “invite your stakeholders to decide where the money goes and how it is being invested in the right way.” Katrien emphasised the power of food to create jobs and described schemes in Toronto and Ecuador to help people, particularly refugees, gain the necessary qualifications.
Máximo Torero Cullen, Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in the first keynote address of the session described the real price of food as a fair price that reflects all assets used in food production. “It is a social price that exposes the harmful effects of child labour and prevents heritage being lost and it is a price that can help a consumer to choose more healthy options,” he explained. Today, however, no unified standard or method exists, while measuring values across different dimensions requires much information and many assumptions.
Adopting a true cost approach will improve understanding of how to use inputs more efficiently and minimise externalities. It is of benefit to governments, investors, producers and consumers, identifying the real cost of inputs on the environment and the impact of the policies needed to create transformation of the agri-food system – a concept wider than food production alone.
Pavan Sukhdev, Founder and CEO, GIST Impact, in the second keynote address, joining from Mumbai, maintained that existing food systems are broken in many ways. He cited analysis showing that “our diets have become the number one risk factor for global disease” and the human food system accounts for around half of all greenhouse gas emissions. He forecast change is coming as food systems are revaluated and “the huge externalities along the food chain have to be acknowledged, measured, valued and managed”. In pressing for change, emphasis must be placed on the benefits for people and health.
Mr Sukhdev said it is possible to comprehensively measure food systems. This holistic approach covers not just profit per hectare, but uses a template to assess entire food systems, measuring flows, and valuing outcomes and impacts, such as changes in natural, human and social capital.
During the panel session, Julia Riss, Head of Brussels Office, Rewe Group, described how her company had applied true cost accounting in a one-off experiment to the price of some of its staple products. It displayed these alongside the actual price charged, prompting considerable public and media interest. “Our message was to create transparency and show our consumption has an impact,” she said. She highlighted how the company is working with NGOs to improve biodiversity performance and reduce true costs. It supports farmers by paying them a premium for products on the way to being fully organic. This benefits consumers (more choice), the company (secure future organic produce) and farmers (rewards for their efforts).
Poppy Eyre, Innovation Support Officer at SusMetro for FoodSHIFT 2030, explained the manifesto ten young people had created in the FutureFoodMakers programme 2021. Their six-point Menu for Change included true cost accounting. This may not be reality today, but she predicted: “My generation will definitely be seeing this.”
The 23-year old urged young people to think systemically and challenge the status quo and appealed to those in senior positions to help them. A radical shift in our economic systems is necessary and this will involve risk. “Diving into the unknown is a scary thing to do, but I think it is our only option.”
Cliona Howie del Río, CEO, Foundation Earth, stressed that true cost accounting must be science-based with data that are credible, transparent and drive change. Her organisation is developing an independent food and drink label. This brings “asset and value to the whole value chain all the way down to farmers, giving merit where merit is due”. An environmental scientist with 25 years’ experience, she emphasised: “We need to change the way we produce and cultivate food to give people better options.” This requires a holistic and systemic approach, involves education and awareness and requires all the levers of change to be triggered simultaneously.
Opening session 2 at the Annual Conference, Geneviève Pons, Director General of Europe – Jacques Delors in Brussels, considered the national strategy plans to be “a laudable intention to give more responsibility to member states” in implementing the common agricultural policy (CAP). However, she pointed to the absence of a direct link between the European Green Deal and the CAP and the inability of the Commission to reject a strategic plan if it does not comply with the EU’s wider environmental targets.
She highlighted that the Farm to Fork strategy is a step in the right direction, but fails to provide “the solid legal and political framework for the sustainable food system we need”. Calling for a clear compass to guide the transformation, she set out four ways a food policy could bridge EU and national activity. Policies need to be aligned under common objectives and principles, a long-term vision for transformation is required, the many separate initiatives should be brought together in a more coherent framework and responsibility for the transition must be fairly distributed along the food value chain.
During his remote intervention, Maciej Golubiewski, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, emphasised the importance of the EU and member states working “hand in hand” to deliver an ambitious food system transformation. He stressed that the new policy transfers significant responsibility to member states for its implementation through national strategic plans. When the Commission approves the plans, it will ensure the necessary “connection between the agri-relevant parts of the Farm to Fork strategy and the new CAP”, while taking account of specific national circumstances.
Mr Golubiewski, pointed out that the strategy is sufficiently flexible to take account of short to medium-term needs caused by the war in Ukraine and will be carefully monitored for its impact on food, incomes and security.
In the panel discussion, Achim Irimescu, Minister Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representation of Romania to the EU, supported the move towards green food, but reminded the audience “we also have to bear in mind that agriculture should deliver sustainable food and food security”. He indicated most national strategic plans could be adopted before the summer and operate from January 2023. Legislation is also necessary to ensure proper implementation. He stressed the need for support to farmers in the challenges ahead. “It is very complicated for farmers to meet all these high standards without support from the entire food chain,” he said.
Zeno Piatti, Austrian Farmer, Vice-President of the Austrian Land&Forst Betriebe, maintained that the debate was “a little bit naïve”. “Farmers are not going green simply because it doesn’t pay us. So, we are not acting accordingly,” he explained. That extra income should come either from higher prices for farmers or from public payments. He called for a redesign of supply chains to strengthen the position of farmers and payments for eco-system services that protect biodiversity and provide a stable climate.
Mr Piatti criticised the national strategic plans, saying they were going in totally different directions. “We have distortions of the market where neighbouring farms with a border in between just compete on totally different levels.”
During the dialogue, Professor Peter Pickel, John Deere Fellow and Manager External Relations, explained the vision behind the transition to agriculture 4.0. “We treat each plant as an individual.” Providing exact plant protection measures, fertilisers and water minimises inputs, maximises outputs and increases farmers’ incomes.
He called on governments to ensure that farmers have access to the finance needed to invest in the new technologies that will help them be more sustainable than in the past. Behind those technologies, he stressed, is the conviction “that they are giving the customer a value”.
Janez Potočnik, Chair ForumforAg 2022 and Chairman RISE Foundation, welcomed participants to the 2022 annual forum with its overarching theme of Striving for Food System Transformation.
He pointed out that the conference, meeting for the first time live and online since covid had forced its cancellation in 2020 and restricted participation to online in 2021, was taking place “under the shadow of the conflict in Ukraine”.
He expressed the Forum’s condolences and support to all those suffering in the war and warned it would have a substantial impact on Europe’s food system. However, the day’s events should focus on the Forum’s core mission: “to contribute to realising the vision of sustainable agriculture in harmony with nature, where farmers can enjoy a decent life and all have access to healthy nutritious food”.
During his address, Per Espen Stoknes, Ass. Professor BI Norwegian Business School, explored how to successfully convince the European Union’s 450 million food eaters and all actors in the food chain to apply the solutions research and science are developing. He strongly counselled against an information deficit approach in which consumers are simply fed facts and data. “Research shows that showing people research doesn’t work.” Such a strategy prompts five psychological mechanisms. These are: distance (the problem is somewhere else), doom (a limited capacity for bad news), dissonance (tension between knowledge and action), denial (burial of uncomfortable facts) and identity (criticism of food choices is an attack on individuals).
He explained how five tools can overcome these negative reactions. Emphasise the social dynamic not facts and charts, keep it simple, make food communication supportive for health, opportunities and society, have signals for feedback and tell a story. “Each food comes with a story and we need to move from a small story to a larger narrative.”
In the subsequent panel discussion, Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Head of Policy and Programme, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) European Regional Office stressed the need for transformation. “All actors need to be part of the solution or we are doomed,” he said, placing special emphasis on farmers as “from the environmental perspective, only farmers are the ones who can make a change”.
During the panel, Robert Horster, Global Sustainability Director Agricultural Supply Chains and Food Ingredients & Head of Environmental Markets, Cargill, noted: “We need to produce more food with less emissions, thus preserving nature. That is almost an impossible jigsaw puzzle to solve.” However, by combining momentum from companies, NGOs, banks, investors and governments and sufficient capital to scale up existing initiatives “we will be on our way”.
Continuing the discussion, Heske Verburg, Managing Director, Solidaridad Europe, speaking on zoom from Ghana, made a strong appeal to stop treating farmers as either victims or perpetrators of climate change. They should be considered “climate heroes” using low carbon practices and the enormous potential to store it on their land. “We have to start paying for it and it should be a business case for farmers to transition to sustainable practices.”
Adding to the dialogue, Dirk Jacobs, Director General, FoodDrink Europe, highlighted the “four Cs of crisis” companies face: covid, conflict of war, climate change and costs. He called for stability in business relations and “the need to build in derisking of transition, address volatility that will increase over time and incentivise farmers”. Regulation can create the necessary conditions, but voluntary codes of conduct help set common visions and pathways for the way ahead.
There was general agreement among the panellists that farmers must play a key role in the transformation, they, especially small producers, require financial support, and the war in Ukraine should not deflect the EU from its current energy, environmental and agricultural strategies.
Fertilizer industry facing challenges from all sides
Conflict in Europe, rising gas prices, the rising cost of carbon credits – multiple factors are affecting the European fertilizer industry and this can only continue. Jacob Hansen, Director General of Fertilizers Europe, talks us through some of the issues and possible solutions, from investment in renewable electricity to reduce dependence on gas, to keeping a global level playing field for fertilizer manufacturers. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 25-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.
How will the tension between Western powers and Russia affect fertilizer prices and the supply chain?
It’s too early to say. The European fertilizer industry is part of European society. If our leaders decide on sanctions, we will support and accept them. But decisions and sanctions have consequences. Obviously Russia is a very big gas supplier to European society. We are a very gas-dependent industry, and we need solutions for us to continue production.
Gas and electricity have already got vastly more expensive. What impact has this had?
Gas prices have gone up more than 500% since the summer and since gas is 80-90% of our industry’s variable costs, so the impact is huge. Farmers have seen much higher fertilizer prices – around 250%. The good thing for farmers is that the prices of crops have also gone up significantly.
We need to work closely with farmers to diminish the impact. We need to increase nitrogen use efficiency, and also phosphate and potassium to make sure that we get optimal growth to optimal biomass per unit of fertilizer use.
Are there still big gains to make in optimization?
We have gotten significantly better at optimization but there is still a lot of room for improvement. More precision farming, much better analysis of soil. We need to get more knowledge to farmers. We also need it to be recognized that farmers are making an effort and they need to be rewarded in the marketplace.
Could organic fertilizers plug the gap between reducing mineral fertilizers and maintaining yields?
Clearly not. There is not enough organic fertilizer to supply what we need. Organic fertilizer typically does not have the right balance of nutrients to reflect the need of the plant to grow optimally. You have to balance that with mineral fertilizers.
Going back to prices, there’s been a sharp spike in the cost of carbon credits as part of the EU’s emission trading system, from 25 euros per unit to 85 euros. What’s been the impact of that?
At the moment we emit a lot of CO2, and we are trying to reduce it. Roughly speaking, we produce 2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of ammonia, so we pay 170 euros per tonne. The good thing is that, at the moment, 80% of this is refunded to the industry as part of what is termed “free allowances”.
Does the EU plan to get rid of these free allowances?
This is one of our big concerns. Under the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, these free allowances will gradually be reduced with a lot of consequences. First, on the price we demand from farmers. If production gets more expensive, the product you sell will also have to get more expensive.
Second, we will not be competitive on the export market. And that is critical because we are a seasonal industry, so we need export markets. If we have to pay full carbon costs and our competitors don’t, it’s going to be very difficult for us.
How do you balance a good fertilizer industry with a legitimate need to reduce carbon emissions?
The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is the right way to go, so there’s a level playing field in Europe. And we are transforming. But we want to make sure we can be part of the global economy while that happens.
As we start to transition to green fertilizers we will produce not on the basis of gas but of renewable electricity. If we want to speed up this development, there has to be an expansion of renewable electricity.
If you could give one policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?
I would focus on “how can we grow crops more efficiently?”. How can we increase nitrogen use efficiently? But we need to look at it not from the point of view of the individual sector, like organic manure, but what does the plant need? And I would like to have more discussion on how the whole food chain – retailers, consumers – can support this process.
If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 25-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.
About Jacob Hansen
Jacob Hansen is Director General of Fertilizers Europe. Before joining Fertilizers Europe in February 2011, Mr Hansen was the Director of the Danish Agriculture & Food Council in Brussels.
The case for ecological economics
What happens if economies move away from a focus on growth and GDP? In our latest podcast we talk with Brian Czech, Executive Director for the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), about an alternative model – the steady state economy, how it works, and some of its implications for the food system as a whole. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 28-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.
Briefly, what is a steady state economy? How is it different from what we have today?
It helps to remind ourselves what economic growth is, and then put it in contrast to that. Economic growth is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. That entails a growing population or per capital production and consumption, measured with GDP (Gross Domestic Product). A declining economy is decreasing levels of production and consumption in the aggregate… indicated by declining GDP. The steady state economy is the sustainable option in between those two. Stabilized population and per capital production and consumption, stabilized GDP mildly fluctuating around an optimum level.
How could you define that optimum level of GDP?
In a democracy, it’s a matter of weighing people’s attitudes, opinions and preferences towards things like green spaces versus urban areas, levels of trash, the amount of congestion. If the primary concern is the environment and climate change, biodiversity loss, or chemicals, you might say GDP of $90 trillion globally is too much.
We have indicators that allow us to see in proportion what are the concerns of citizens in a democracy, starting with GDP, but also the Living Planet Index, the Human Development Indicator, the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, the Genuine Progress Indicator.
Are stocks of natural capital still depleted in a steady state economy, or do you try to reinvigorate them? For example, how does that work for land or rainforest?
We have renewable and non-renewable resources. Some of the energy resources, for example fossil fuels, aren’t renewable. Once you extract them and combust them for power, they’re gone. Most minerals are pretty much like that. With renewable resources, you mentioned forests. If you haven’t depleted or degraded timber and biodiversity too far already, then they are renewable, meaning they can be recovered to a level that is higher than when they were severely depleted. However, biodiversity can only take so much and when a species is extinguished, it’s gone.
Is there a significant overlap between steady state and the circular economy?
They’re different. And there is no such thing as a completely circular economy. There will be waste in the economic production process. Maybe where the two come together is in the buying of time in the transition from a growth economy to a steady state. We would encourage people to think more in terms of a flow of throughput rather than a circularity with 100 percent recycling.
What happens to the price of food in a steady state economy?
I’m afraid it’s going to go up before there’s significant steady state politics to conduce a steady state economy itself.
A lot depends on when the transition to a steady state economy transpires. If it’s prior to a collapse of an economy, then it can be done with relative price stability. If it’s done after the fact, after a lengthy period of macroeconomic supply shock and inflation of the money supply… then no, there won’t be price stability.
Could you give one policy idea or practical suggestion to create a more sustainable food system (aside from implementing steady state economics).
I would give one of the top policy recommendations toward establishing a steady state economy, which is land conservation. Maybe we could view it as a matrix of ecological integrity – including stocks of natural capital and funds of ecosystem services. You may have a forest that’s a stock of timber. It’s a stock of wildlife. It helps to maintain stocks of water. It’s concurrently a fund of ecosystem services that help to maintain an agricultural economy on agricultural bases outside the forests, like pollinators and scavengers and soil aerators.
The more we depend on monocultures that are dependent on heavy loads of fertilizer and energy – that’s very dangerous and it’s very unstable. We need the resilience provided by ecological integrity and a biodiverse matrix for the agricultural sector.
If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 28-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.
About Brian Czech
Brian Czech has a Ph.D. in renewable natural resources studies from the University of Arizona with a minor in political science. The founding President of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), Brian is also a Visiting Professor at Virginia Tech, where he teaches ecological economics in the National Capitol Region.
How wine links to health and nature
Our latest podcast takes us to Ikaria, in the Aegean ocean, where Konstantinos Afianes is producing natural, sustainable wines. The island is known for the longevity of its population – so what are the secrets of the islanders’ health, and how can wine production continue against the intensely hot weather produced by climate change? For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 22-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.
Tell us a bit about Afianos Wines, the vineyards and Ikaria.
We started in 1997. My parents had a lot of passion about the history of the island. People had been forced to leave after the phylloxera plague at the end of the 19th Century . It destroyed 90% of European vineyards. Wine-making rebooted after the Second World War. There was always huge potential.
Like your parents, you produce natural wines, rather than processed. How did that start?
My father’s main profession is a pharmacist. He knows how important people’s well-being is, and he always tried to avoid using chemicals. So I learned wine-making the natural way. Then when I studied in France I saw the most industrialized way. I came back having learned what not to do.
As a farmer, do you receive any support?
When we started the winery in 2007 we had some funds from the EU. We had first applied in 2002, so by 2007 everything – materials, building – was about twice the price. So we still have a loan to pay back. There’s a lot of hassle with the bureaucracy. With the pandemic, we’ve also had help.
Is climate change having an impact on the vineyards and on the island?
The situation is changing drastically. This year we saw the greatest impact of all. From 400 metres altitude, coming down to the sea, we had a lot of heat and just before the harvest severe fires. We lost about 60%. But anything above 400 metres flourished. Fortunately, we didn’t have any significant diseases. We’re in survival mode. We’re forced to plant at higher altitudes where it’s cooler. A lot of our vineyards are experimental, we have different patches at every altitude.
Ikaria is famous for being a Blue Zone – one of only five places in the world with high longevity. Why is that?
It’s a family-centric lifestyle which is closer to nature than in the city. People have time to think about themselves – to meet people, to bring wine, to enjoy dinner together, supporting each other in the bad moments and the good moments. I missed this when I was abroad.
What about the diet on Ikaria. Should it, or could it, be more widely adopted?
Everything begins with the soil – that’s the No 1 priority, to have clean land without chemicals. If you have clean land, you can start thinking about the rest, food, vegetables etc. We’re talking about a biocentric model, which is the only one that’s sustainable. We have to focus on that.
Is the traditional lifestyle coming under threat?
We are big on tourism nowadays. We’re not like the big islands, but in August the situation is dire! My main concern is that Ikaria does not get taken over by tourism and money, and we lose our values.
What are your plans for the future of the vineyard?
We’ve set goals which are all around environmental sustainability. Our goal is not the wine – that’s the final thing. The projects we have are to make us as autonomous as possible for the winery in the future. We are recycling the water we use in the winery, because we have high usage, and adding solar panels. In the vineyards we only use compost we produce from the leftovers of the harvest.
Can you share one piece of advice that would really make a difference and increase the sustainability of the food system?
We have to think long-term, improve our techniques of, say, organic farming so that we can feed more and more people without destroying the environment. We need to search deeper and deeper into techniques to return to the natural world.
If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 22-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.
About Konstantinos Afianes
Konstantinos Afianes, who studied wine-making in Bordeaux, France, is co-owner of the Afianes Vineyard, which was founded almost 20 years ago by Nikos and Maria Afianes. Today, joined by their two children, Konstantinos and Eftychia, this family-owned winery is a local treasure elevating Ikarian wine and welcoming guests from all over the world that want to share moments, experiences, good company, and great wine.