In discussion with David Cleary
Podcast summary

Trade deals can do more on deforestation and sustainability

Trade negotiations, including in Europe, have much more potential to deliver on ensuring all commodities are sustainably produced. So what needs to change? We asked David Cleary, Director for Agriculture at The Nature Conservancy. Get a taster of his ideas in the 3-minute summary below of our latest Food Systems Podcast.

Have partnerships for sustainability in global trade evolved and are results better?

Partnerships are more structured, more focused on the entire supply chain. Also working with the financial sector looking at the whole question of financial incentives.

On results, no. Tropical deforestation is fairly stable – but at a level higher than we’d like. Some places have improved, other places have got worse.

Is the situation improving with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainable investing – or is that greenwashing?

There is a lot of capital out there which is prepared to take a longer-term impact investing perspective. Companies’ commitments are genuinely meant. But in most companies, there hasn’t been enough political will at the headquarters level to drive through.

If industrial agriculture – soy, palm oil, other big export cash crops – is driving deforestation, is it right the EU continues with such exports?

Those are important industries and support a lot of small farmers. We don’t want to choke off EU demand. But we do want to send a signal that says they need to meet certain conditions that are consistent with our values and our environmental concerns.

You can do that in different ways, like certification. But you’ve got other commodities where certification won’t work. So in an international trade agreement, you insist on legality, and verified legality.

That’s an important theme in current trade discussions between the EU, Mercosur and other trading blocs. Important because the monitoring, control and verification systems you set up to establish legality can also serve for more rigorous monitoring and verification systems that meet the zero-deforestation demand that the average European consumer has.

Talking about financial incentives – who pays?

The money has to come from everyone. There are trillions of dollars flowing through supply chains. We need to shave off a relatively small proportion of that and return it to producers.

Everyone, including governments, needs to recognize that resolving the deforestation question will take care of one sixth of world’s greenhouse gas emissions. So it has to be part of any proper integrated approach to climate change moving forward.

In the EU-Mercosur agreement, is the environment still second to cars and beef?

Yes. The European Commission’s trade negotiation structure hasn’t mainstreamed sustainability concerns to the extent that governments and the voting and consuming populations in the EU have. And that’s a major problem.

It’s critical for all commodities that countries can’t import anything into the EU unless they’ve got a convincing, robust verification system so that we know that what’s coming in has been produced legally.

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

The single most important thing to get deforestation down is a habitat credit, a credit for farmers to preserve the vegetation on their land and transition to zero-deforestation production.

The existing inducements to farmers are all really complicated. So we have to have a completely new system.

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 David Cleary

David Cleary

David Cleary is Director, Global Agriculture at The Nature Conservancy. He joined The Nature Conservancy in 1999, where he set up the Conservancy’s Amazon program. Since 2010 he has helped the organization develop a sustainable intensification approach to food security, and assisted corporate partners in thinking through land-use issues. He is responsible for supporting and coordinating the Conservancy’s work on agriculture in Africa, China and Latin America, with a strong focus on soil health, water issues and habitat conservation, while continuing to supervise the Conservancy’s work on deforestation.

In discussion with Benedikt Bösel
Podcast summary

Time to change the paradigm

Farming for Benedikt Bösel is much more than production – it’s about new attitudes, policies and models that put farmers at the centre of solving many of the world’s biggest challenges. Read some of the highlights of his discussion with Robert de Graeff in the Food Systems Podcast.

Your model is called Beyond Farming. What exactly is that?

A belief that we have to see farming not only as primary production, but as the single most effective way of challenging many of the biggest problems we face – climate, biodiversity, health, and also education, rural development, equality.

How does that influence operations on your own farm?

We have incredibly dry, sandy soil. Anything I do has to be with regard to making the ecosystem, the soil, healthy again. I looked all over the world for land use systems, agricultural systems that do that. We want to test and develop all kinds of different forms of regenerative land use model and make that knowledge open-source for farmers.

Will it be replicable?

If it works here, then it can work in other places. I realised for our farm we need to look at the root causes of our problems, and then decide how to change our system in order to change the root causes. This is something you can do on one square metre or 100,000 hectares.

A number of farmers feel trapped by broader systems that they have little control over. How would you change that?

Farmers are stuck in a system designed to make money out of them, keep them in debt, keep them inflexible. We need to change the paradigm to honouring and appreciating what they do for us. We need to invite farmers to be the guardians, the people that we can rely on to change the way we work with nature.

What’s crucial is to have independent global context and location-specific real-life farms where we have real-world testing and implementation of different solutions-oriented methodologies that have a shared belief in land use that looks after the ecosystem – at the same time producing food that is high in nutrients.

What do you hope for from European agricultural policy?

I would love to challenge the scientific community to give independent advice, not financed through third-party money. It has to be about designing an agriculture system that enables a particular farmer in a particular area to do farming that is in line with what we need currently and in the future.

I would wish for politicians to increase their knowledge and drive to understand complex ecosystems and really try to see the potential, including economic potential, in complex ecological functions and systems.

Can you give us one idea or policy that would change things to create a more sustainable food system?

A nice chunk out of the research and development budget for scientists, interdisciplinary professors, entrepreneurs, people from all areas, to have free space for thinking and working on solutions that are not dependent on the size of the market.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 26-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

About Benedikt Bösel

Benedikt Bösel

Benedikt Bösel is founder and CEO of Gut&Bösel near Berlin. Benedikt and his team are implementing different forms of regenerative agriculture like syntropic agroforestry, holistic grazing, market gardening and different composting methodologies on his estate that is characterized by extremely low precipitation and sandy soil. The estate also ties in startups and technology to combine both worlds. Benedikt is engaged and sits in various boards of initiatives around the future of land use and rural development. For instance, he sits on the board of Soil Alliance – an association of Regenerative Agriculture as well as is part of the Advisory Board of Digitalisation of Agriculture for the Ministry of Food & Agriculture in Germany.

In discussion with Allan Buckwell
Podcast summary

Can the CAP help tackle the climate emergency?

Among other goals, the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is intended to support the EU Farm to Fork strategy and Green Deal. Emeritus Professor Allan Buckwell, Research Director at the RISE Foundation, sees many hurdles ahead. In our recent Food Systems Podcast, he discusses with host Robert de Graeff where European policy goes from here. If you don’t have time for the full podcast, take a few minutes to read our precis below of some of the highlights of their conversation.

You’ve said the CAP is stuck in an outmoded model. Why is that?

Pillar one, which still contains most of the support of the CAP, was there as compensation for reducing support prices and should have been transitory. We’ve muddled seriously the purpose of the payments and we remain in that muddled, inconclusive state.

In the next reform, the CAP is also meant to be the financial bridge between Farm to Fork, the Green Deal, and European farmers. Can it deliver?

It’s intended to. It’s unfortunate that Farm to Fork, Green Deal and various other strategies are coming up now. They weren’t in evidence in the previous Commission in which the current reform proposals emerged. The CAP could be re-tuned to embrace to goals of the Green Deal – if there was the will to do it. What we’re observing is that the will doesn’t seem to be there, not among farm ministers.

So, should the whole CAP be scrapped?

Logically, yes. There are some good ideas in there, but they simply don’t match to the ambitions and the seriousness of the climate and environmental emergency. And it’s taken us four years to get where we are. It simply doesn’t reflect the ambitions of the Commission. And it’s not clear that those ambitions are wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supported at high political level across the member states.

How many reform cycles can we say will ‘do’, before the structural problems overwhelm the system as it exists?

If we’re serious, grappling climate change in the 20s, 30s and 40s is essential. After that we run into catastrophic climate change and it’s too late. Farmers are aware that climate change can harm their own practical and business interests. The trouble is, at the political level in farming circles, they don’t see the problem. We haven’t elevated these issues to the priority they should be.

One of the big targets coming up is a significant reduction in the use of pesticide products. Is this realistic?

For every new mode of action and every new synthetic product you develop, sooner or later a resistant strain will emerge. We’ve got to find some other approaches such as biological control and ways of farming that are simply les intensive. I think it’s reasonable for the Green Deal to give a hefty push to finding other ways to control pests and diseases.

Can you give us one idea or policy that would change things to create a more sustainable food system?

We have to change the decision process. The policy now is so dominated by farmer interests. And they’re negotiated by ministers of agriculture who see themselves as defending one interest rather than looking at the food, nutrition, environmental and climate needs of their societies and by an agricultural committee in parliament who are self-selected with a very specific interest.

If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 26-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.

About Allan Buckwell

Allan Buckwell

Emeritus Professor Allan Buckwell has been Director of the RISE Foundation’s reports on crop protection, livestock, the Common Agricultural Policy, nutrient recovery and reuse and sustainable intensification. This builds on his role as Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for European Environmental Policy. Two thirds of his career has been as an academic agricultural economist specialising in agricultural and rural policy, so he is very well placed to share his views on the issues of the current CAP reform.

In discussion with Erik Fyrwald
Podcast summary

Agriculture needs aggressive climate goals – and it can deliver

Agriculture has the capability to create a much more resilient food system and become a part of the solution to climate change. But for that to happen, governments need to set clear outcome goals to catalyse action from the entire food chain and support from the public.
Erik Fyrwald, Syngenta Group CEO, believes passionately this is achievable. He says European agriculture could potentially halve its emissions by 2030 – in Europe, farming is responsible for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions – and by sequestering more carbon in the soil.
Erik gave us his perspectives in conversation with our host Robert de Graeff in the recent Food Systems Podcast, for those who prefer READING to LISTENING, we’ve summarized the key points:

How much could we reduce agricultural emissions in Europe?

By 2030, have a goal of at least halving the 13%. The sooner we set the goals and the more aggressive they are, the quicker the actions will be to achieve them.

What does a modern farm look like 10 years from now?

Even sooner, farms will be highly supported by technology to produce much higher yields and to be able to capture carbon in the soil. This will be done by using seeds, fertilizer, crop protection products and regenerative farming practices.

How do we get these technologies and practices into the hands of farmers to accelerate change?

Governments have to put in place the incentives for farmers to do this. The first step needs to be outcome goals around agricultural sustainability, then incentives.

• Farming subsidies need to be geared towards supporting sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices.

• We need a carbon credit system so as farmers capture carbon in the soil, they are able to sell those credits.

• We also need food labelling so consumers can pick sustainably grown foods. Then food companies, retailers, the whole value chain are all incentivized.

How can carbon farming work for the environment and for farmers’ profits?

There’s a great opportunity to capture carbon, for farmers, the value chain and the world. We need to be able to to estimate how much carbon is captured through regenerative practices, verify that, and from that determine the carbon credits that farmer gets. There’s a huge demand for those carbon credits from companies who need offsets.

What exactly do we mean by regenerative practices?

It’s having healthy soils that lead to healthy plants that lead to healthy people and a healthy planet. Regenerative agriculture can enrich the soil, can have high yields, and capture carbon from the atmosphere

What about public opinion – how do we bring them along on this journey?

Start with outcome-based goals. Let entrepreneurs and scientists who care about the planet help guide us on what are the right technologies, what are the right practices. We need strict science-based regulatory processes that ensure safety. With that kind of drive, trust in the system will improve.

We also need to keep reducing the volume of pesticides, even though they’re at safe levels today. With better and better crop protection products, biologicals and digital tools, we can do this.

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 Erik Fyrwald

Erik Fyrwald

Erik Fyrwald is Chief Executive Officer, Syngenta Group. Seeing the devastating impacts of weather extremes around the world and given his love of nature, Erik is passionate about climate change. He regularly speaks about how critical it is that industries, governments, NGOs, academia and media collaborate to drive climate action. He strongly believes that agriculture can be part to the solution by working with farmers to use safe modern technologies and best agronomic practices to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, sequester carbon in the soil and enhance biodiversity.