In discussion with Mark Titterington and Caroline Mahr
Podcast summary

Accelerating our mission with a more international reach

 

In our latest podcast, we hear about the plans and expanded mission of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture. Mark Titterington, Co-Founder of the Forum and Senior Adviser, and Caroline Mahr, the Forum Program Director, talk about the coming year of the Forum, EU-US relations, the shift towards a sustainable food system, and their views on the most important policies coming up in the next 12 months. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 30-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

Before we look forward, what impact has COVID-19 had on the organization and what lessons have you learned from that?

CM: We’ve become much more a virtual organization and adopted an online format for events. We successfully delivered three weeks of virtual events this year – 14 sessions, more than 3,000 participants, 90 countries represented, and 100 speakers from around the globe.

MT: We were able to extend our reach virtually across the world, bringing in speakers from very different backgrounds, very different countries, very different perspectives. When you think about our mission of creating a space where new ideas and thinking can emerge, it really helped us accelerate our journey.

We’re now a decade into the Forum’s founding mission to combine food and agricultural security. Are we closer than 10 years ago?

MT: When we started, the objective was to show that agriculture and the environment were inextricably linked. As we’ve expanded our partnerships, we’ve been able to expand that mission – looking at how we make the system more resilient, more sustainable, how the system can contribute to mitigate the effects of climate change. We’re in a better position to think about the practical ideas we can take forward.

How much time will these new ideas need to gestate before they come to life and start contributing to climate and broader sustainability goals?

MT: Without diminishing the urgency, the most important thing is that the ideas have to be practical, they have to be implementable, and real. It’s important to take time to make sure we’ve got the rewards that need to go into the system to support the actors.

What global or European policy items do you see as most critical in the coming 12 months?

MT: From a European perspective, the Farm to Fork strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy are critical. Also the Fit for 55 package and particularly the focus on what the land use sector can and needs to get done and how it’s supported. Linked to that, setting the standards for areas like regenerative agriculture and carbon farming are going to require international cooperation. And interaction between public and private sectors will be important.

CM: Yes, it’s the impact of the EU policy packages on third countries and the relations we have with other continents of this world. We should also look into the true costs of food and how we integrate the price of natural resources more accurately.

The Forum aims to provide more connections between US and European policymakers. How do you see this progressing?

MT: Over the past couple of years the Forum has worked very hard to create the space for the US ad EU to interact at all levels, federal, presidential, Congress, state and cities. We’ll be building on that. There is a lot of willingness and openness to forge a new partnership. I think with our partnerships – like the Chicago Council, some new partnerships, and our existing strategic partners – and corporate members that go across boundaries, we can get a lot of mileage out of this transatlantic partnership and make a contribution in terms of ideas and thinking that will be critical going forward.

CM: It’s also important to the Forum to strengthen the networks of young entrepreneurs and young leaders from both sides of the Atlantic. Another element is the increasing trend towards regenerative agriculture on both sides – there will inevitably be a connection.

What are the big themes or highlights coming up from the Forum in the next 12 months?

MT: As we’ve mentioned, the EU policy agenda and what that means to land managers, growers and other actors. We’ll be delving into some of the things that civil society and companies are doing and asking to what extent they are delivering scalable solutions. And pushing forward with the transatlantic agenda.
We have our event in Paris in December, and next year our program for the month of March. With the major international events happening – the UN Food Systems Summit, Cop26 and the Convention on Biological Diversity – we will want to analyse what is coming out and what it means for actors and stakeholders in Europe.

CM: There are very specific topics that we will also address at our events: obviously, biodiversity, and another one is sustainable trade.

Looking at UN FSS and Cop26, what are your expectations?

CM: We expect leadership from public authorities, a real commitment from member states. We need to see a willingness from politicians to take up their responsibility to address climate change and the urgency of transforming the system. We’ve been talking about it enough already – can we move on! I expect a reinforcement and the opening up of public-private partnerships.

MT: Leadership is really important – honest, trustworthy, substantive, courageous leadership. There are two things they can do – set very clear direction, and provide funding that catalyses other funders.

What is, for each of you, one policy or practical suggestion for a more sustainable food system?

MT: As you know, the Forum doesn’t take a position on any one thing. So it’s a personal idea, revolving around ensuring that we get the standards and the quality set around regenerative agriculture and carbon farming, that we provide the support that growers need to make the transition, and that we have a market that’s available for both public and private actors.

CM: I’ve been looking at the connection between food consumption and food production, the impact on health and the need to protect nature. I would suggest some kind of mandatory education course in schools and academic universities, just to emphasize the impact of food production on our health and that of our children.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 20-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Mark Titterington

Mark has enjoyed a long career in the agri-food sector having previously worked at the United Nations and for Syngenta where he held a number of senior leadership positions in corporate affairs and business sustainability in the EAME region and globally. Mark is a co-founder and senior adviser to the Forum for the Future of Agriculture and a Senior Fellow at the Transatlantic Policy Network. He is also the current Head of Marketing and Public Affairs for Indigo Agriculture Europe GmbH.

 

About Caroline Mahr

Caroline Mahr is the Program Director for the Forum for the Future of Agriculture and Project Manager at the European Landowners’ Organization.

 

In discussion with Matija Zulj
Podcast summary

Digital technologies are crucial to sustainability

 

In our latest podcast, we hear about the impact of smart technologies on farmers, sustainable agriculture and consumers. While they can be a cost burden to farmers, they also promise big rises in profitability, according to Matija Zulj, Founder and CEO of Agrivi, which provides digital agriculture services. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 20-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

Digital technologies seem to rely heavily on farmers knowing how to use computers at an advanced level and having high-speed data access. How does this work out in practice, especially with smaller farmers?

Farmers are even now using smartphones on a daily basis to read what’s happening in their region. They have the devices needed, they have connectivity – even if there are problems in some areas – and we can see adoption of digital technologies taking off. The market is ripe for more adoption.

What about broader services that require soil sensors, advanced machinery or other more capital intensive inputs? Will there be a gap between farms that can afford them and smaller farms that lag behind?

There is a gap at the moment, and some farms need help to lift the burden of the cost of technology. For example, food companies provide technology, both to help farmers adopt it and to secure the sustainability of their supply chains. Input companies also cover the cost of technology. And in a lot of countries there are also subsidies for technology adoption.

Will digital services financially benefit farmers – or will farmers end up paying for them, and not improving their income?

It needs to be a win-win situation. For example, by vertically integrating the supply chain, food companies are trying to bring know-how to farmers to help them deliver the desired quality. If we look from a consumer perspective, if we want to eat healthy, nutritious, safe food, with rising standards, there needs to be cooperation between the stakeholders.

Your experience shows farmers can increase their profitability by between 50-100% percent in the first two years of using digital agriculture. How does that work?

If the profit margin is low, achieving a 50-100% increase is not that hard. It’s about timely agronomic practices and doing the best possible things to protect your crops. For instance, on average, farmers lose 20-40% of yields because of late or inadequate crop protection. Our technology provides early risk warnings of pests and disease so farmers can take timely measures.

If many farmers in one geographical area apply these technologies and gain better yields, won’t that flood the market?

If you vastly increase the supply and there’s no extra demand the price would go down. The key is improving collaboration in the ecosystem so that farmers address actual demand – so they grow what’s needed, not what they think is needed.

Many voices say that industrialized, mechanized, modern farming is de facto harmful to communities and the environment. Can software and connected hardware overcome these concerns, or are we refining a system that fundamentally doesn’t work?

Digital technologies are crucial for achieving sustainability. They are the fastest way to provide tailor-made advice that serves all the food safety and sustainability standards.

In 5 years’ time, what will be the most used digital technologies in agriculture?

Digital software will have a faster penetration than a lot of hardware simply because it’s less cost intensive. We will also see more and more automated solutions, robotics, simply because of the lack of labour.

If you could give one policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?

Making traceability obligatory. This would impact directly on applications of inputs that at the moment are disrupting our health and our planet. As consumers we could more easily choose the products that are sustainably grown.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 20-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Matija Zulj

Matija Zulj is an impact entrepreneur committed to solving global food problem. He is recognized as one of European Top Innovators (sifted by Financial Times) and a thought leader in the fields of foodtech, agtech and building sustainable food systems.

 

In discussion with Marc Rosiers
Podcast summary

Strengthening farmers’ position in the food chain

 

In our latest podcast, we talk about how to reconcile a better living for farmers with affordable food for consumers, as well as how to include eco services in the price of farm produce. Our guest Marc Rosiers, Managing Director of MR Food and Agriculture Consulting, also discusses local supply chains, cooperatives and the potential of carbon farming. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 30-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

Farmers want a good living and high prices for their products. Consumers prefer to pay less for food to protect their standard of living. Can this contradiction be resolved?

The market is growing in importance in EU policy. We are seeing price volatility and depressed agricultural prices. Price as a signal to supply and demand is not really effective, because production cycles are quite long. There is also a lack of permanent, systematic, accurate information on both supply and demand to guide farmers in their production decisions. So while demand is quite steady we see a lot of shocks in supply. Oversupply and low prices – or shortages, with high prices. As well, the price level in some European countries is depressed compared to the world market price.

What are the answers? We have to look for economies of scale and scope – more cost-efficient production and strategies like cold storage of produce.

Agriculture has tried to find a solution to these shocks in supply. Over the last seven or eight years, the Commission has been working hard to strengthen the position of agricultural producers in the food supply chain. Now, in all agricultural sectors, you can create producer organizations so that farmers get access to economies of scale or scope. Together, they can negotiate better supply conditions and prices and exchange best practices. They can invest in sustainable farming and risk management tools, common equipment, storage and other facilities. A producer organization can play a very important role in supporting viable farm income.

There’s only one important drawback – that’s governance. The larger the cooperative, the more difficult the governance.

Do you expect the movement towards cooperatives to grow in the coming 5-10 years?

Yes, because cooperatives and producer organizations receive exemptions from competition law. Normally, farmers cannot exchange information like prices and volumes with each other. But in a producer organization, they can. Another advantage is that processors or retailers are interested in developing direct relationships with farmers’ organizations – but not with individual farmers.

Could a farmers’ cooperative have its own factories or production sites? Do they still need intermediaries?

I think everybody has to remain in their own competence. I don’t see this happening yet. At the moment, I see the reverse – retailers establishing a dedicated supply so they can say to their clients “your food comes from there”. This is also part of the solution to depressed prices – it can eliminate leakages, and this will add to the net income of the farmers.

What about farmers selling directly to consumers through short supply chains, like farm shops and online business models? Do you see this growing?

Agriculture is not only one business model. Short supply chains are one model that will remain because being local is becoming very important. Shortening supply chains brings us back to dedicated supply, eliminating intermediaries, stopping leakage – and more of the income remains with the dedicated supply.

There’s been a lot of talk about a “true price model” which reflects not only production costs and margin of profit, but also environmental externalities or eco services. Is it possible to move to a true price model in agriculture?

Theoretically, it’s a marvellous concept but there are a lot of practical barriers to implementation. How will you impose this type of calculation on imported goods? Food price affordability is one of the key concepts for the Common Agricultural Policy. If you double and double prices, it may not be a big issue for the average consumer, but it is for people below the line. So you need to have accompanying measures of social redistribution.

There is a lot of urgency in the climate debate. Will things like carbon storage and biodiversity promotion be an additional source of farm income or just another cost?

For the first time there is an opportunity for farmers to be rewarded for eco services. Carbon is leading the way but there are a number of barriers. There is a lot of talk about carbon credits but before you can issue credits you need to certify all the practices of the farmer. There has to be trust in the robustness of the mechanism that verifies the farmer is delivering storage of additional CO2. This is not yet being put in place.

Once your carbon certificate is there, then you have to develop markets where you can trade it. I am optimistic because we already see more demand for carbon credits than supply.

If you could give one policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be??

The Commission wants to create one sector to integrate agriculture, forestry and land use in one regulation, to reconnect what’s happening in the soil with what’s happening above the soil. I think that’s essential.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 30-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Marc Rosiers

Marc Rosiers is Managing Director of MR Food and Agriculture Consulting and has 25 years of experience as internal consultant and board member in agri-food companies and professional associations such as there are Agri Investment Fund, Boerenbond, etc.

 

In discussion with Jean-Marc Chappuis
Podcast summary

A holistic approach to farming reform

 

Switzerland is planning a reform of its agricultural policy, based on a holistic food systems approach feeding into the country’s overall sustainable development. Hot topic areas include pesticide, nitrogen and phosphorus use reduction; the role of women on farms; and the need to maintain agriculture in the mountains. In our latest podcast, Jean-Marc Chappuis, Deputy Director of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, gives us some insights and his expectations of the UN Food Systems Summit. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 24-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

What are some of the main goals of the new 5-year program?

The aim of the reform package for agricultural policy, Politique agricole à partir de 2022 (PA22+), is to reinforce the environmental services of agriculture and to improve social aspects, mainly the position of women on farms: to strengthen the three pillars of sustainable development.

The package was suspended by the Parliament, which requested a new report that should analyze potential enlargement of agricultural policy towards a more holistic food systems approach, among other questions to be answered. We are working on this report and it is expected to be finalized in summer 2022.

The Swiss government wants to create financial incentives for pesticide-free farming. How do you define that? Is it organic farming or completely chemistry free? And how have you structured those incentives?

Well, all chemistry is concerning. It is not only for organic production. The Parliament has adopted a new package on the reduction of the risks linked to the use of pesticides. I can give you the details: the risks posed by the use of pesticides to surface waters and semi-natural habitats, as well as the pollution of groundwater, to be reduced by 50% by 2027 compared to the average value for the years 2012-2015.

And the Parliament also decided to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus losses from agriculture. The Federal Council proposed to reduce nutrient losses by at least 20% by 2030, compared to the mean value for 2014-2016. The proposal would be discussed with the agriculture sector, NGOs and other organizations.

How will Switzerland pay for the new measures?

It is a national agricultural policy, financed from general federal revenues such as value added tax, direct federal tax and customs revenue, with some cantonal subsidies.

Switzerland has farms in difficult areas in higher altitudes: how do you support those types of farms?

The country’s decentralized population is one objective of the agricultural policy. The area used for agriculture is divided into a summering area, a mountain area and the valley. The mountain and valley areas are divided into zones and the subsidy varies across different zones. We have a subsidy, for example, paid to farmers who move their cows in summer to the highest altitude zones.

Looking internationally, the talks on a framework deal between the EU and Switzerland have collapsed, so how will agricultural trade relations continue?

There is a risk that trade will be affected if the 1999 Agricultural Agreement is not updated regularly. But Switzerland and the EU have a common interest in the markets functioning. The EU Commission is in the process of considering how the relationship between states and the EU will continue.

The UN Food Systems Summit is coming up. What are your expectations of the outcome and what is the Swiss Government bringing to the table?

It is very important to have a food systems approach and this is supported by Switzerland. We expect the UN to lay the ground for action-oriented work between now and 2030. Forming coalitions around specific issues seems a promising approach, provided they include the private sector and civil society. The actions have to be based on sound science.

We expect that stakeholders will be able to talk together. The transformation of food systems goes well beyond agriculture and it is very important to get all stakeholders, and consumers, on board.

If you could give one policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?

We had a very interesting and good experience with the dialogs we organized in preparation for the Summit. A lot of initiatives were proposed, concrete initiatives were presented, all aimed at improving the sustainability of food systems This is certainly something we would like to carry on.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 24-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Jean-Marc Chappuis

Jean-Marc Chappuis was appointed Assistant Director of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) in August 2018 and in March 2020 he was appointed Deputy Director. He is head of the Knowledge Systems, Technology, International Affairs Directorate. Jean-Marc Chappuis holds a doctorate in agricultural engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ) specialising in agricultural economics.

 

In discussion with Patrick Worms
Podcast summary

Dispelling the myths about agroforestry

 

Agroforestry has a key role to help agriculture become more regenerative and create a more sustainable food system, according to Patrick Worms, President of the European Agroforestry Federation, who recently took part in our workshop on UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue: Mainstreaming regenerative agriculture. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 29-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

What is the definition of agroforestry and what are some examples of its use on farms?

Agroforestry is the integration of perennial plants like trees or bamboo in a farming system whose main product is crops or livestock. It can take many different forms: dehesa farms in Spain, savanna-type landscapes with cork oaks, grazed orchards, forest grazing, woodlot, hedges, windbreaks.

What are the benefits of adding trees to fields?

First, control of soil erosion. Trees control not just storm erosion but everyday rain or wind erosion. Another example is nutrition management. Tree roots go much deeper than crop roots and pull up nutrients from deep in the soil. They also absorb excess nitrogen that goes deep into the soil.

Better management of water resources. Partial shade keeps moisture in the fields, and trees act like giant rain-catching devices. And pest control – trees host a variety of pest predators, reducing the amount farmers need to spend on pesticides.

Farmers have been hesitant in the past, so how do we deal with the drawbacks of agroforestry, like getting machinery through trees, or too much shade?

The main drawback is a lack of knowledge. Farmers are not trained in growing long-lived plants. With machinery, it’s just about planning the system properly. Same for shade – you can calculate the amount of shade that would optimize your farming system. In years that have erratic weather, trees are going to improve the yield of wheat. The metric that really matters is profit and there agroforestry wins almost all the time because it drives down cost.

How can we increase the uptake of these practices?

Through extension services – very good advice, and farmer field schools. This needs to be paid for by the public sector because a lot of advisory services are paid for by seed companies and input companies. But agroforestry is cheap to establish, so there’s no business model to pay for the advisory service.

Going outside Europe, are there more opportunities for agroforestry in the developing world?

Agroforestry is common around the world. Today we think it’s more adapted to the global south because the south is poorer and less of a market for capital intensive agriculture. More farmers are still operating using these time-honoured techniques. The best of them have levels of productivity which put industrial agriculture in the shade: 300 to 400% more productivity. It’s not either/or, systems are being combined – 42% of all agricultural land in the world has at least 10% tree cover already.

The EU Green Deal, Farm to Fork, the CAP, all talk about agroforestry in a positive way. Will this turn into real on-the-ground changes?

Talk is cheap! Things like the eco schemes have to fund proper extension services. You cannot leave it to the private sector, which will push abiotic technologies like precision farming, which are useful. We’re talking about biotic technology, the trees. To do that, farmers need support.

With insect pressures, droughts etc, are trees themselves in danger from the effects of climate change?

Absolutely – if the rain stops. That’s going to hit over timescales of decades or centuries. In the shorter term, exotic trees are more fragile – that’s why conifer plantations across Europe are dying. So you tend to use local species. The second danger is if the climate changes so quickly that a tree cannot complete a full lifecycle from planting to harvesting. But thankfully, we’re not there yet.

If you could give one policy idea or practical advice to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?

Mono crops? No thanks. Monoculture is probably going to be less productive, less resilient, less able to draw down carbon than any form of poly culture.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 29-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Patrick Worms

Patrick Worms is President of the European Agroforestry Federation. He also participated in our
UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue: Mainstreaming regenerative agriculture.

 

In discussion with Amirul Islam
Podcast summary

Smallholder farming in crisis

 

Smallholder farmers in Asia have been hard hit by the pandemic and climate change, as well as systemic issues like landlessness and lack of secure tenurial rights to land, water and forest resources. Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit, our latest podcast discusses the particular challenges for small farmers in this region with Amirul Islam, Operations Manager for South and Central Asia, Asian Farmers’ Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development. For a few quick highlights, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 22-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

What impact has COVID-19 had on family farming in Asia?

About 60% of the 4.5 billion people living in the area are dependant on agriculture. As of July 9. About 4 million people in Asia were infected. This has had a great impact on agriculture… job losses, businesses, supply flows of perishable products, input costs and facilities to start up. Many in the farming community also depend on tourism.

Most farmers in Asia are smallholders with one holding who depend on the everyday markets. They cannot store their produce. When the harvest season comes and the markets are closed, the produce is lost. So this is really a sad, miserable situation.

Is small family farming the biggest structural problem facing the sector?

The problem is finance: perishable products have to be sold at market as soon as possible, otherwise there is no money. On the opposite side of things, when income sources are closed off, at least people in agriculture keep some of the food so they are less vulnerable if you compare to other sectors.

What is the big difficulty in financing the Asian family farm?

Smallholders are dependent on their productive resources – land, water, seeds, pesticides, fertilizer. If they cannot sell their products, how can they continue farming, because they have no capital to reuse for food production. The pandemic has been with us for a long time – not one or two months, but 21 months so far.

You’re speaking to us from Bangladesh, which is also suffering severely from the impacts of climate change. What are you seeing?

When the climate changes, everything changes – rainfall patterns, heat, the seasons. It becomes very hard for farmers to cope. When they need rain, there is drought, the number of hurricanes and bigger storms are increasing. Climate change is devastating in this country.

Do you think governments and other bodies are doing enough to combat climate change?

In developing countries like ours, we have limited resources. But so far, many of the farming countries are trying to support farmers. The big issues are not in their hands. This is the responsibility of global leaders.

What more should the international community be doing?

There are commitments, but we have seen there are no effective steps so far to reduce global temperatures. In particular poor countries need support.

Then what do you hope comes out of the UN Food Systems Summit – are there specific points?

We hope the decisions taken will support smallholder farmers. To summarize three points. Agro-ecological practices: this needs to include access to common land, the rights to seeds and water, and skills development for farmers. Empowerment of smallholder farmers – regulations, governance, investment, government policies and programs. And finally, access to financial incentives, including tax incentives and similar initiatives.

Could you give us your policy ideas for creating a much more sustainable food system?

At the Asian Farmers’ Association we talk to about 22 national farmers’ organisations. We want to promote a number of things: ‘reclaiming the commons’, or ensuring access to natural resources, like land, water, forest, seeds. The second is to produce diversified and nutritious food through sustainable, integrated, resilient, organic agro-ecological practices. Third is to promote big extended family farmer cooperatives and their enterprises to give farmers stronger involvement and opportunities for women and young people. And finally, policy advocacy and capacity building.

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 Amirul Islam

Amirul Islam is Operations Manager for South and Central Asia, Asian Farmers’ Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development. He also participated in our

UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue: Mainstreaming regenerative agriculture.

 

In discussion with Emile Frison
Podcast summary

The 13 guiding principles that can speed up food systems change

 

In our latest podcast, Emile Frison, IPES-Food panel member and UNFSS co-lead on the solution cluster on agroecology and regenerative agriculture, discusses how the world can change food systems fast enough to cope with impending crisis, and whether the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is capable of catalysing the pace of action needed. For a few quick highlights, read our short podcast summary below, or dive into the full 28-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

What is the goal of the Food Systems Summit, and what do you hope it will achieve?

There was a realization that our food systems are broken and that it’s urgent to address the issue. It’s still very difficult to see what will come out of the summit. I hope for a clear realization that we need to change the paradigm from a productive-based approach towards a sustainable food systems approach, and that there is a resolution to do something about it and not just have a declaration.

In 2017 you co-authored an article and a larger report that stated the world must move away from industrial farming towards a more diversified ecological set of practices. Has agriculture changed?

A lot of things have changed. There are an increasing number of applications of diversified agricultural systems in different parts of the world, several at scale. A number of major reports have recognized this need for a paradigm shift. But the change is not as much, by far, as I would like to see because there are a quite a number of obstacles.

What sort of timeline are we looking at – decades, years?

Definitely not decades … we have about 10 harvests left. If we don’t get our system fixed, we will be in deep trouble, not only because of the negative impact on the environment, etc., but just to feed the world.
We are now seeing countries making major decisions. Things are moving faster than on climate, but that is by far not sufficient. There is still a lot of resistance and we must continue to convey the message that there is no time to be lost.

The UN food system is meant to catalyse a lot of developments. But looking at track three on nature positive production, it includes many areas. Is it not too broad to create real practical change?

Absolutely not. The Food Systems Summit has to take a systemic approach. One of the reasons we are in deep trouble is because things have been handled in silos. Agriculture wanted to maximize productivity. The environment sector wanted to protect the environment. Health wanted to fix health problems once they have been created. And so on. We need a systemic approach to look at all these things in an integrated way.

The problem with the Food Systems Summit so far is that they started by dividing it into five action tracks, nutrition, environment, production etc. That was already a mistake. Then track three is divided into protect, manage and restore as action areas. Within that, there are 2,200 proposed solutions. It’s too nitty gritty.

In the solution cluster on agroecology and regenerative technology we are advocating the 13 principles from the High Level Panel of Experts report of 2019 as guiding principles for food systems transformation done in a holistic way.

How would you actually define agroecology and regenerative agriculture?

In 2020, a group of organizations brought together people from different parts of the world involved in organic agriculture, agroecology and regenerative agriculture to see what we have in common. And we decided it is the 13 principles that I just referred to. Anything less than that is greenwashing.

Our call is for the 13 principles to guide food system transformation without attempts to greenwash and dilute or do cherry-picking. It has been signed by more than 160 organizations worldwide and more than 460 individuals. And it’s still running.

Where would the funding come from to pay for this transition?

A good starting point is the €720bn that goes into subsidies around the world every year. That would achieve the kind of transformation we need. There’s another €35bn of fisheries subsidies. Also just removing policies that are preventing the transformation – sometimes it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more.

If you could only choose one single concrete policy or practical idea to create a more sustainable food system, what would it be?

Replace the current sectoral policies by a food system policy. Now we have an agricultural policy that contradicts the environmental objectives and the health objectives, etc. If we have a food system policy that integrates all these dimensions, we would avoid the trade-offs and create synergies.

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 Emile Frison

Emile Frison is an expert on conservation and agricultural biodiversity who has headed global research-for-development organisation Bioversity International for ten years, after holding top positions at several global research institutes.

 

In discussion with Humberto Delgado Rosa
Podcast summary

Achieving biodiversity goals is a necessity

 

Both the UN and the EU have far-reaching and ambitious biodiversity goals – but are they achievable? We talked to Humberto Delgado Rosa, the Director for Natural Capital at DG Environment in the European Commission, who gave us an upbeat assessment of what can be done. Read our short podcast summary below, or dive into the full 22-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 

The UN Biodiversity Summit has the goal that in 2050 all world ecosystems are restored, resilient and adequately protected. Is this realistic and will there be an enforcement mechanism?

It is certainly a very necessary goal. If necessity brings in realism, we will have to do it. It is hard… but there are many benefits to humankind. I would certainly expect a new deal for nature that would pave the way towards a very different state in 2050. I don’t think the approach would be around enforceability. It should be around measurement, reporting, verification.

The EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy has a target of 10 percent of land and 10 percent of sea under strict protection. Can the Commission make sure member states implement this?

One of the targets is 30 percent protected areas in European land and water, one third of which is strict protection. For the overall protected areas, we can count forest and Natura 2000 areas. We are working with the member states on a definition of strict protection. We will count on their collaboration and we will measure and monitor.

The EU also has a 25 percent target for organic farming, which will also help biodiversity: can this one be achieved?

It is ambitious but there are many indicators that show the potential for organic farming to grow remains huge. We have the instruments – the Common Agricultural Policy, the strategic plans, the money from research for agriculture devoted to organic farming. Europeans do equate healthy food with naturalness, and organic farming is dear to many consumers’ hearts.

‘Natural’, unlike organic, is not a protected term in the EU. Should we create more protected categories so consumers know what they’re buying?

Labeling is pretty important for consumers. We have in the pipeline what we call a green claims initiative, which aims to settle the process. It’s about more regulated approaches to labeling so that consumers actually know they can trust whatever green label they see in front of them.

There is an ambition to plant three billion new trees by 2030. But how will the Commission and the member states ensure tree management, so that these trees reach maturity?

There will be a working document accompanying the European Forest Strategy to help organize and stimulate this pledge. To plant a tree is not necessarily good. It depends what tree you plant, where you plant it and how you do it, so we will focus on the right tree in the right place for the right purpose.

Finally, if you could give one idea or one policy suggestion to make a more sustainable food system overall, what would it be?

Humans react very well to some indicators and one of them is money in their pockets. What we need overall is to make unsustainable practices more expensive and give relief for sustainable practices. Whenever there’s a political opportunity to use incentives, bringing the hidden costs of production into prices will get you somewhere.

We see a lot of attention, particularly among the young, to healthy diets. Public policies that help bring awareness of what is healthy and environmentally sustainable food is another approach we should have in the mix.

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 Humberto Delgado Rosa

Humberto Delgado Rosa is the Director for Natural Capital, DG Environment, European Commission. Previously he was Director for Mainstreaming Adaptation and Low Carbon Technology in DG Climate Action. He is experienced in European and international environmental policy, particularly in biodiversity and climate change issues. He served as Secretary of State for the Environment of the Portuguese Government from March 2005 to June 2011. Between 1995 and 2002 he was an advisor for environmental matters to the Prime-Minister of Portugal. He holds a PhD in Evolutionary Biology.

 

In discussion with Bérénice Dupeux
Podcast summary

The CAP needs rewriting to align with the Green Deal

 

For Europe’s green strategy to have an impact, the Common Agricultural Policy has to go back to basics to support it, says Bérénice Dupeux, Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Legally binding environmental targets and new criteria for funding are a must, she says. Read our short podcast summary below, or dive into the 20-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more. 

 



Why should the current CAP proposal be withdrawn and rewritten?

It goes back to 2017. An EEB study showed that the greening of the CAP was having no impact, so we called for the European Commission to undertake ambitious reform. The proposal that came out was timid and mostly maintains the status quo.

After the European election, the new Commission published the EU Green Deal along with the Farm to Fork and Bodiversity strategies. So we called for the CAP to be fully aligned with the new ambitions.

However, the Commission has left it to Parliament and the Council to do the alignment. So far, Parliament has not committed the CAP to the Green Deal strategy. When it comes to the final vote, they can either accept the CAP as it is or restart the process – which is what we are calling on them to do. This way, environmental ministers and institutions can also have a seat at the table.

Do you think the current CAP proposal will pass or be rejected?

The same people are negotiating the CAP as in the past, so I don’t think it will be rejected.

If the CAP proposal were withdrawn, how would EEB rewrite it to be greener?

EEB has put forward quantitative targets for reducing greenhouse gases, pesticides and nutrients and these need to be made legally binding. To achieve these targets, we need proper incentives. That means abolishing harmful subsidies that encourage pollution, for instance, CAP support for the livestock sector. Money needs to be spent on policy that delivers environmental and climate-positive outcomes, which must be measured.

How would you design a more effective biodiversity component of the CAP?

We need coherence on all the environmental dimensions, so the accent should be put on farming systems that deliver multiple positive outputs.

What about redistributing European funds to farmers – how should they be targeted?

We need a fairer CAP, and the most unfair part currently is the direct payment as it is not based on reliable data. We need to collect data about farmers’ incomes, and make it compulsory for member states to provide tailor-made policy instruments. One could look at family farm income, another could look at helping farmers restore and preserve land, for instance.

One frequent complaint is that the CAP is not transparent. How would you change that?

Member states are going to design the national CAP strategic plan. It’s really important that in the drafting process at national level all stakeholders, including environmental stakeholders, have a seat at the table. And not just be consulted last-minute to tick a box.

Would you keep the national plans, or control strategy at the Brussels level?

The EEB is not against national plans as long as there is proper accountability. It makes sense to tailor policies to your environment and your context. However, giving a blank cheque to member states to do what they want with, and reviewing it from far away in Brazil, is not the answer.



If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 20-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

 

About Bérénice Dupeux




Bérénice Dupeux is a Senior Policy Officer for Agriculture at EEB. She holds a phD in Agricultural economics from Ghent University in Belgium and she has also a Master degree in International Development and Rural Policy from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and is an agricultural engineer from Institut national polytechnique de Toulouse, France.

 

In discussion with António Amorim
Podcast summary



Cork – a superstar of sustainability

Cork products are carbon-negative and cork forests are biodiversity hotspots with benefits from CO2 capture to well-being. António Amorim, CEO of Corticeira Amorim, discusses cork’s potential for growth and role in climate change in our latest Food Systems Podcast. Read a quick summary of some highlights below. You can also hear more on the topic at our regional event on May 26 – book your place now.



What is a cork forest and why are they unique?



Cork oak grows mainly in the Mediterranean basin, and Portugal and Spain represent 80 percent of the world’s cork production. Cork is the bark of the tree. It takes a long time – 25 years from planting to first harvest – but also lasts a long time. What is so special about this tree is that is grows in scattered forests.



Cork is an icon of sustainability and biodiversity: you don’t cut down the tree, you just ‘peel’ it. The bark is light, impermeable, insulating, acoustic – a true example of sustainability on planet Earth.




If it takes 25 years, how does the cork industry meet demand?



We believe there is huge potential for growth for such a unique, sustainable product. Every single tonne produced captures 73 tonnes of CO2. The carbon footprint of cork products is negative.



There are spontaneously grown trees, so every year about five percent of trees give their first harvest. In Portugal we plan to densify and increase forests, using minimal drip irrigation for the first 10 years. The first harvest will come down from 25 years to 10.




Is climate change impacting cork forests and production?



This is a tree that is adapted to the local climate and soil, and needs little rainfall. The only thing we can do is to densify the low-average number of trees per hectare that we have in Portugal and Spain. And by investing in new plantations we can increase the carbon capture potential.



Is there a case for payment for ecosystem services?



The wait to the first harvest is long. So people should have an incentive to wait. We believe the way is to remunerate positive externalities that come from the forest – and those include not only cork, but CO2 capture and biodiversity.



Can labels like Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC) do more?



There should be an obligation within those systems for people to replant. They should also include criteria for the establishment and incentivization of ecosystem services. We should value these natural alternatives in a better way.



How should multinational companies respond to a demand for measurable, impactful sustainability when it comes to international trade deals?



What you cannot measure, you cannot manage. Companies should have an ‘ID’ for sustainability and carbon footprint. Until you are carbon neutral or carbon negative you invest in forestry, you invest in your production systems and packaging to minimise impact. You create a dynamic because you know that some of the world’s consumers are screening your score on carbon emissions.



One of the growth sectors for cork is construction. What are the barriers in that market?



There must be an incentive for people to invest in cork products that will probably cost slightly more that the synthetic products being used today for most construction business.



Can you give us one idea or policy that would change things to make the system more sustainable?



The pandemic had made everybody aware of health. We need to show that forests are important for health, and connect sustainability with health.



If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 24-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

About António Amorim

António Amorim

António Amorim is Chairman and CEO of Corticeira Amorim, the world’s biggest cork processing group. Founded in 1870, the company has made unprecedented investments in research and development, innovation and design, perfecting a portfolio of products, objects and solutions with high added value.