Making healthy food the easier choice
Annual Conference 2022 session 4 summary

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.



Session 4 blog


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.”


Session 4 blog


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.

Food price mechanisms: How does the food system pay for its true cost transformation?
Annual Conference 2022 session 3 summary

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.



Session 2 blog


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).


Session 2 blog


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.

Unlocking greater collaboration between the EU and Member States to deliver food system transformation
Annual Conference 2022 session 2 summary

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.



Session 2 blog


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.


Session 2 blog


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”.

Integrating climate mitigation and biodiversity regeneration in food system transformation
Annual Conference 2022 session 1 summary

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”.



Session 1 blog


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”.



Session 1 blog


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.

In discussion with Jacob Hansen
Podcast summary

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.

 

In discussion with Brian Czech
Podcast summary

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.

 

In discussion with Konstantinos Afianes
Podcast summary

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.

 

In discussion with Galina Peycheva-Miteva and David Wilkinson
Podcast summary

Realistic steps towards regenerative ag

Every farm is unique and encouraging farmers to use regenerative practices is about small, easy steps, not a rush into advanced analytics and big data. That was the theme of our first podcast of 2022, in discussion with Galina Peycheva-Miteva, farmer and land manager in Bulgaria, and David Wilkinson, Vice President for Agricultural Procurement, PepsiCo Europe. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 27-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.

There’s a lot of divergence in what regenerative agriculture means to people. What’s your definition?

GP-M: On my farm, it’s a holistic conservation and rehabilitation approach. In particular, a combination of minimum tillage, use of various cover crops targeted towards different goals, rotation of up to seven crops, and significant reduction of fertilizer, substituted by the use of nitrogen and phosphorous-fixing bacteria. This has made us a successful nature positive business. But it took almost 10 years of trial and error.

DW: My view is very similar. It’s around the adoption of farming principles and practices that really seek to improve the farm and field ecosystem. We want to measure benefits like soil health, water quality, watershed health, biodiversity and the amount of carbon we’re sequestering. It’s thinking about the system benefits instead of the March-to-September impact on a specific crop.

Some of these practices are already relatively standard in Europe – so what’s different?

DW: It’s about quantifying the systemic effects and actually looking to measure the improvements of these metrics. Let’s understand the impact. These are not a set of practices that are generic and work across the whole spectrum of farms. The specificity around the uniqueness of every farm and every farmer’s livelihood is really important.

GP-M: Regenerative ag demands regionally specific knowledge that is grounded in the particular crops grown within local climates and it requires trial and error. Trying it on your farm, seeing how it works, what the outcome is, and talking to other farmers.

Are farmers ready to engage with the level of IT management and administration?

GP-M: I don’t think we can quantify regenerative ag by counting worms, for example. The way to make farmers ready is to establish peer to peer groups. Farmers need to see the practices to be convinced that this can work.

DW: Are farmers ready to be the next data scientists? Probably not. But you can encourage people to start to step into the area. It’s not about blinding people with analytics and thousands of data points and algorithms. It’s just to show some very basic improvements and then, in my experience, farmers catch on very quickly with the technology.

Specific carbon goals and sustainability targets do need to be measured and verified. Does the average farmer in Bulgaria have the tools and skills to provide not thousands of data points but even 20 or 30?

GP-M: The average farmer in rural Bulgaria does not have the skill-set for very advanced digitalization. Nevertheless, we see that this is the future and people are trying to catch up.

DW: Data and digitalization will play an absolutely critical part in understanding the activities that are being performed to support crop production. It’s a learning curve.

Is digitalization and regenerative agriculture inclusive or will some farmers and food chain actors be left out because of cost?

GP-M: A lot of farmers are older and have trouble getting used to technology. It’s a trend that will be picked up by the newer generation of farmers. It’s a matter of how we prepare our succession. We have to think how to motivate the new farmers, the new agronomists to be more pro-digital and pro-technology.

DW: I think if regenerative ag and digitalization for farmers ultimately ends up not being inclusive, then we will have failed. It’s not just around age but we need to think about small farmers that might be renting land short-term. When we talk about inclusivity, how do we make it work for them?

Looking at the broad set of practices, which one if the easiest for farmers to start with?

GP-M: Minimum tillage and use of cover crops. This combination can be applied to virtually any farm.

DW: Fully agree with both! Thinking about low-carbon farming, the third element would be to transition to better fertilizers. More organic fertilizers, applied in smarter ways, only applying the right amount of fertilizer.

If you had one piece of advice or one policy suggestion for a much more sustainable food system, what would it be?

DW: Again, touching on low-carbon farming, it would be great to have a coherent approach that appeals to all types of farmers. that incentivizes food to be produced in the right way.

GP-M: I would add that decision-makers in Brussels should establish regenerative farming as a legitimate path towards a sustainable agriculture future and support farmers in the transition.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 27-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

PepsiCo is a Supporting Partner of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture.

Galina Peycheva-Miteva is a Bulgarian farmer, landowner and activist. She has been managing the family farm since 2007. She is the vice-chairman of the Bulgarian Landowners Association, sits on the board of the Bulgarian Association of Agricultural Producers, and is active in policy-making.

 

David Wilkinson is Vice President for Agricultural Procurement, PepsiCo Europe. David has worked for PepsiCo for 21 years and was originally an engineer by training. He now leads PepsiCo’s team of agronomy experts across the Europe sector and oversees PepsiCo’s Sustainable Farming Programme.

In discussion with Melissa Ho
Podcast summary

Valuing the true cost of food is key to our water future

 

There are many elements to tackling the way the world ensures a future water supply. Water as a commodity, the regulation of groundwater and drought-resistant crops are just some of the topics in our discussion with Melissa Ho, Senior Vice President for Water and Food at WWF-US. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 32-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.

 

What’s your view on the UN Food Systems Summit: did it create a catalyst for real improvement in the sustainability of the food system?

The summit and its takeaways drive ambition in other platforms, like the Convention on Biological Diversity, where governments will make commitments on nature and biodiversity. The momentum was about elevating the importance of food systems in the broader global agenda on climate and nature. There’s been an elevation and understanding of land use change, deforestation, conversion and food waste and loss.

Turning to water, the western United States has been experiencing severe droughts. What are some of the causes and effects?

We’re tracking two major reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, and their status shows us the state of all western US water. The reservoirs are around 35% of their capacity right now, which is the lowest they have ever been. This is the result of not just a drought but a ‘mega drought’. There’s so much at stake: agriculture is hugely dependant on these reservoirs, and cities too.

Part of the response has been more marketization and commodification of water. Is water pricing a strategy for the future?

Water markets are very controversial and very nascent. To go back a step, the crisis is largely driven by climate change but another dynamic is the importance of groundwater, especially (but not only) in California, where water markets are taking off. Until recently, groundwater was not highly regulated and in droughts there’s chronic overdraft leading to degradation, salt water intrusion and land subsidence.

In California, in 2014 regulation mandated that local groundwater users must bring their basins back into balance by the 2040s. Water markets are just one piece of a mechanism to help manage this groundwater. There’s lots of other mechanisms too.

There’s a need to have pricing and for the true cost of water to be evaluated. For many, the markets are a way to bear that out. The other pieces of the puzzle are governance, equity and inclusion. It’s important to understand the impact and the design of these systems to ensure the basic human right of having access to water for households and livelihoods is maintained.

Are there specific things farmers in the western US or Europe should be doing to help conserve water?

Wetlands restoration is a key one for land management. Wetlands around the world have been converted and it’s a neat example of nature-based infrastructures. On farm, practicing regenerative agriculture, which is important for water management, soil health, soil infrastructure, and soil and nutrient management. We need to also think about water quality and understand the issues around runoff and degradation of water systems from agriculture.

Will we see new crop strains specifically bred to be drought-resistant on farms in the coming decade?

I don’t think genetically engineered, drought-tolerant corn or wheat or rice are a silver bullet. Water is a critical input – you can’t avoid needing water at all. We also need to look at our consumption, our management, and our choices in a much broader way.

Would it be better for people to eat less meat which causes less water abstraction?

I think we oversimplify the issues and the context-based nature of the environmental footprint of food. Moderation and consideration of consumption really matter. It’s not fair to demonize one commodity or another. In the Great Plains in the US, the land is suitable for grazing but not suitable for plant production. Beef is a quality nutrition product and it’s not accurate to say it has no place in the food chain. There are a lot of issues with speciality horticultural crops, especially coming out of France and South America. In the Eco Valley in Peru, there’s overextraction of groundwater for a huge rise in horticultural crops, especially asparagus but also onions, tomatoes and other things.

What would be one policy idea or practical suggestion to create a more sustainable food system?

I wish we would value food for its true cost, looking at all the externalities and impacts that our food system is having on human health. Then allocate our public resources to drive a food system towards better shared values on the outcomes. The UN reported that 87% of government support that goes to agricultural producers is either distorting or causing more damage to health and environment.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 32-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Melissa Ho

As Senior Vice President for Freshwater and Food at WWF-US, Melissa D. Ho drives landscape and transformational initiatives that increase the sustainability of agricultural systems and the conservation of water for the environment and ecosystems. WWF is a Strategic Partner of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture.

 

In discussion with Alberto Arroyo
Podcast summary

The hurdles to implementing sustainable practices

 

Sustainable agricultural practices abound, but the key question is how to implement them. In our latest podcast, Alberto Arroyo, Head of Policy and Programs at the IUCN European Regional Office, discusses the challenges, the need for a clear, aligned way ahead, and the commonalities between different systems. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 25-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.

 

Which sustainable agriculture practices could make the greatest contribution today?

Whether we speak about one or another approach to sustainable agriculture, there are a number of practices behind that are relatively coincident in all of them. Crop rotation, cover and companion crops, mixed crops and intercropping, reduction of synthetic pesticides and mineral fertilizer use, no or minimal tillage, lower livestock densities, managed grazing, free range – there are many more. These are the kinds of practices that are definitely helping.

Regenerative agriculture is one of the practices hitting the headlines. Is it a useful framework when some of the terminology seems to be quite broad, even vague?

Yes, why not? If we do the practices right, let’s not bother too much about the names. We came up with a glossary of 180 and there’s even a new one – nature positive agriculture. I’m not sure we’re talking about something completely new.

Some of the practices you outlined are fairly common. What stops any or all of these from being implemented in the majority of European farms?

Challenges in implementation is one of the issues we discuss in the report. The economic issue is a fundamental one. Conventional agriculture is very subsidised. To transition to something different needs support, so these subsidies will probably be redirected to other kinds of practices.

Do you think the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will bring about substantive practical changes on the farm?

Yes, there are opportunities now. What’s very important is that a lot of the responsibility is not in the Commission’s hands, but in the Member States’ hands – which means there are still a lot of decisions to be made and we don’t know what they will look like.

There is a concern that some of all of the national ministries may not be practically ready to take on the responsibility.

Maybe it wasn’t the best to leave that much responsibility to the Member States. It’s difficult to know how we’re going to monitor the achievement of all the targets with different decisions taken not at the central level, and also how the CAP will be translated into performance in relation to environmental targets.

Monitoring performance needs an identifiable baseline. How close are we to having indicators that allow us to monitor performance at a useful level?

That is one of the gaps we identified. And this is an area where we want to focus our efforts. There are lots of indicators and a lot of metrics for measuring environmental performance towards different targets. But at the moment everything is a bit messy. We are going to try to define some recommendations for a potential way forward.

Let’s go back to the practices: which one is most underused, something we could promote better?

One of the targets in the Green Deal is the reduction of the use and risk of pesticides. That’s something that will be useful not only for the environment, but also for health. That’s why it’s also in the Farm to Fork strategy.

Is there anything that consumers at an individual level could do more of?

There is a terrible issue with food waste. That’s in the hands of not only supermarkets and restaurants, but all of us.

You say that sustainable agriculture must deliver economically, socially and environmentally, because otherwise it doesn’t work. How would you ‘rank’ them?

If we have a problem with the environment, we will not have anything to discuss about social or economic issues. If you look at it like a wedding cake, in the base you have all the environmental targets, and afterwards economic targets and after that social targets. Without the environmental targets being achieved, we will not have anything to discuss about the other targets.

IUCN has recently joined the ForumforAg. Here, we’ve always stressed the need for open dialogue. Are there any actors who shouldn’t be invited to join in? And on the other side, who are we missing?

I would say there’s nobody we should exclude, because if we want to achieve change we need everybody to feel responsible for the achievement of the target. I would like to hear any kind of industry or sector you could imagine. Maybe the focus has been quite strongly oriented towards production – farmers and land users. Now we’re getting broader, for example, the pesticide industry which is a very important one.

In these discussions, do you differentiate between ‘natural’ pesticides like sulfur or copper, and synthetics? Or is it a total phase-out of all of them?

I wouldn’t like to differentiate. We need to change the way we’re doing things and this is a challenge. We need to think about it holistically, not focus on a specific one. At the moment, the challenge is the spectrum of the use of pesticides. There are some approaches that are using much, much less.

Finally, can you give us one practical or policy idea that you think would make a difference for a more sustainable food system?

At the moment we’re lacking a clear vision of where we’re going. It depends who you ask. As long as we have different ideas of where to go we are just going to push in different directions. This is one of the fundamental issues: to try to sit down with everybody who is important in this discussion and try to find a common way forward as much as possible.

Read the IUCN report on sustainable agriculture here.

We think you’ll also enjoy a podcast with Emily Broad Lieb, Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard, on finding simple solutions to food waste. Listen to Ask a Harvard Professor on Food Waste here.

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 Alberto Arroyo

Alberto Arroyo is responsible for policy and programs at the European Regional Office of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). IUCN is a Strategic Partner of the FFA. He has held leading positions on EU environmental policy for the past 15 years.