Developing and scaling carbon farming in Europe – questions to address?
Caroline Mahr, Forum Programme Director

Carbon farming blog


In the coming days, the European Commission is expected to publish its communication on sustainable carbon cycles. Reportedly, this will set out the measures it believes will be required to establish sustainable and resilient carbon cycles which can contribute to the legally binding commitment to balance greenhouse gas emissions and removals by 2050 and achieve negative emissions thereafter.


One of likely areas of focus is the need to upscale technological and nature-based solutions which together can, potentially, reduce emissions and increase the capture and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere. In recent months, the Forum has also been exploring this topic with many of our partners and stakeholders with a particular focus on carbon farming. We have sought to understand its potential, how it could be developed and scaled within the European Union, and the co-benefits it might deliver.


During these dialogues, which have taken place during field visits, podcasts, roundtable seminars, and our conference events, there appears to be a general consensus that carbon farming – including agro-forestry, peatland rewetting and the building up of soil organic carbon – can play a role in establishing more sustainable and resilient carbon cycles as well as delivering co-benefits for soil health and biodiversity. It is fair to say, however, that some still have doubts and pose very legitimate questions about the extent of the contribution and whether it can be accurately accounted for.


It seems clear, therefore, that if carbon farming is to play a substantive role in establishing sustainable and resilient carbon cycles, a number of factors will need to be fully considered in its development and scaling in Europe (and beyond).


These certainly appear to include agreement on the definition of carbon farming (and, by association, regenerative agriculture) and the qualifying practices; the setting of robust, harmonised standards, and an approach to monitoring, reporting and verification, (MRV) which would retain the confidence and support of a wide range of stakeholders as well as generate investment certainty. After all, being certain that the practices undertaken by foresters, land managers and farmers, can genuinely lead to verifiable carbon savings and removals is paramount. Addressing the key questions of additionality, avoidance of leakage, no double counting, and – for some, the most important – the guarantee of long-term permanence, will surely be critical in the emerging EU regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals.


The provision of and access to impartial advice and knowledge transfer is consistently raised by potential practitioners. This seems to be critical to any successful scaling of carbon farming in Europe and would help to ensure that all farmers, whatever their size, are able to participate. In the end, the farmer or land manager will need to be deeply convinced of the broader agronomic, environmental and economic benefits, if they are to make the shift, as well as being sure that changes are compatible with their primary role of producing food.


Much has been made of the need to develop new business models around carbon farming which equitably incentivise all participating growers over the long term. These range from green financing to the issuing of high quality, high price carbon credits, (which have the potential to lever in additional revenue from outside the agri-food industry but which remain controversial for some). Others are attracted by the opportunity for the agri-food chain itself to incentivise growers in their supply chains, to switch to carbon farming friendly practices.


Whatever the merits or otherwise of these new business models, few believe that on their own they will be a panacea. To many, the Common Agriculture Policy should play an expanded role in supporting growers in covering costs to make the transition to carbon farming practices and sustaining them thereafter.


Other innovative ideas for incentivisation and the attraction of impact investors have also been heard. These included building accurate risk profiles and/ or, taking a longer-term view of the added value of land where it can be shown to have been demonstrably improved through carbon farming (or broader sustainable agriculture) practices. Some believe this could help to unlock fiscal tax breaks, discounted finance, as well as overall higher land prices.


For those who believe that agriculture can be part of the solution to the climate crisis, carbon farming represents a significant and exciting opportunity. But it is also equally clear that if it is to command confidence and support, as well as investment of time and money, the factors outlined above – and no doubt several others not mentioned here – will need to be addressed in the Commission’s forthcoming communication and in the legislative process that follows.


 

Views from some of our partners


Pepsico quote



ELO quote


 

Caroline Mahr
Forum Programme Director

 

Can the Green Deal deliver on food, climate and biodiversity?
Event summary

Our panel event on November 23, 2021 tackled the thorny question of whether the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies are on track to address the complex interconnected needs of food, climate and biodiversity.



Green Deal panel



Moderated by Rose O’ Donovan, Editor-in-Chief AGRA FACTS, the event was both lively and timely, coming on the day that the European Parliament voted to approve the Common Agricultural Policy Reform proposed by the European Commission.



Can the goals create a paradigm shift?



Are the targets and goals of the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies the right targets and the right goals? And do they represent the integrated approach needed to bring about a paradigm shift? These were the questions addressed by Professor Erik Mathijs, KU Leuven, in his opening remarks as he reflected on the first 18 months of the Farm to Fork strategy.



Professor Mathijs catchily talked about ‘BHAGs’, or ‘big, hairy, audacious goals.’ But a major critique of the Common Agricultural Policy, Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies is that they do not sufficiently take outcomes into account, he said.



The goals were “not about greenhouse gases or human health impacts or biodiversity impacts of pesticide use or nitrogen access… rather, the focus is on inputs, use of pesticides and fertilizers, and one specific production method, organic,” he said.



Professor Mathijs touched on a vast range of issues that could impact the goals – from lack of data to trade-offs that must be made – he concluded: “The Green Deal strategies do represent a possible paradigm shift and integrated approach that acknowledges that for change to happen, the whole system is needed, including consumption and trade. But this approach is not well reflected in the chosen targets, nor maybe even in the proposed actions, particularly in the area of consumption and trade.”



He urged attendees to read the forthcoming reflection paper coming out of participatory sessions with 44 stakeholders – “a tremendous effort to grasp the full complexity of the food system”.



“What’s important is the direction of change”



Ambitious goals are not a problem: this was the perspective of Tassos Haniotis, Director & Acting Deputy Director-General DG AGRI, European Commission. The Farm to Fork strategy “raises the bar very high, raises the bar in many areas where you can raise valid concerns and questions.”



What is important is not so much the initial speed of change but the direction of that change, he said. “If you start on a path where you cannot turn back, acceleration of change will come.”



Mr Haniotis highlighted the limitations of studies and scenarios which underpin the targets and goals. While they are based on existing information, there is always a part of the picture missing. He said it has been a particular struggle to understand what happens with consumer behaviour, and it is a case of taking what information is available and making certain assumptions.



“You can’t really negotiate with science”



Coming back to the targets, Sébastien Treyer, Director, IDDRI- Institute for Sustainable Development & International Relations, pointed out that they are set by science, and are based on what is needed on climate and biodiversity to ensure a safe operating space for humanity. “You can’t really negotiate with science,” he commented.



But what you can negotiate is the timeline and pathways to get to those targets. Within the timeline set, he felt that 2030 would be the right moment to assess whether goals and actions have triggered the structural changes that are necessary to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.



Some of those structural changes will be “heavy” – such as certain sectors having to decrease volumes and look for value growth rather than volume growth. He gave examples of how this has been tackled in France – but also mentioned lack of data such as on jobs, incomes and economic processes in the processing industry.



Who bears the burden of change?



Turning to who will make change happen, Nathalie Chaze said that the burden of change is not only on farmers. Ms Chaze, Director, Food Sustainability, International Relations, Directorate General for Health and Food Safety, European Commission, emphasized: “The success of the challenge really depends on challenge at every step of the food chain.” She noted that Farm to Fork puts a lot of emphasis on changing demand – and this can be done “because we know that consumers want to contribute to the transition”.



The main goal is to successfully nudge consumers towards sustainable diets. There are a number of initiatives under way, such as nutrient profiles, mandatory original indication and labelling. The strongest influence on consumers comes from retailers, manufacturers and traders – and the EU will nudge them as well, she said.



Success depends on a combination of voluntary regulatory activity at EU, national and local level, because regulation alone cannot change behavior and habits, and “we really want to flag this is a shared responsibility”.



View from a sustainable farm



Amidst the discussion by policy experts, a change of pace gave our guests a real-time view from the farm.
Novifarm in the Netherlands is a partnership of arable farmers cultivating 800 hectares. Sustainable agriculture practices are used to grow important export crops like potatoes for the French fries market and onions, as well as winter wheat and winter barley.



Dik Kruijthoff, Chairman of the supervisory board, CZVA, joined by live video link to demonstrate how sustainability works the field. Novifarm was an early adopter of precision farming, back in 2010. And it is proven to work – after almost 12 years of precision agriculture, combined with practices like sustainable crop rotation, the farm has achieved a 10% decrease in fertilizer use.



Mr Kruijthoff also voiced one of the many concerns of European farmers. What will be the impact of pesticide reduction targets? Will rising costs mean that US farmers can grow potatoes more efficiently and so take a larger share of the market?



Germany’s way forward



To close the event, attendees were given insights into how Germany sees the future. Dr. Peter Strohschneider, Chairman of the German Commission on the Future of Agriculture, introduced Germany’s commitments, laid out in a recent report. The conclusion: it is possible to balance diverging interests sensibly and fairly, even in particularly difficult areas.



The goal is to aim for a market-based greening of the agro food system – but it is essential to make the risks of the transformation manageable, provide planning certainties and increase farmers’ acceptance of the transformation, he said.



Ecologically responsible practices need to be economically attractive and economically successful. And while the measures envisaged would exceed currently available public finances, the transformation would cost much less than keeping the status quo.



Have you enjoyed this taster of the discussion? Then watch the full event here


Transatlantic cooperation: The path to sustainability
Event summary

Collaboration and innovation are key: that is the view of our expert panel on how the US and EU can tackle climate change through making agriculture more sustainable while providing enough food for a growing population. It was the topic of our latest event in Brussels where the panel debated the new transatlantic cooperation agreement between the US and the EU, launched on November 3.



Transatlantic-pic-1



There were many questions around the new agreement. How do the US and Europe see it? How can it work in practice? What about trade barriers and imports? And why is this the right time?



Dialogue is needed now



Climate change is the top issue facing agriculture – and a transatlantic dialogue is needed now more than ever to enable US and EU efforts towards climate-friendly farming. Mark Titterington, our moderator, opened the debate saying: “Such a dialogue can help drive the agenda on agriculture, enable agriculture to meet the challenges that it faces in relation to farm profitability, productivity, greater resilience, sustainability and particularly the environment, and enable agriculture to respond to and mitigate some of the challenges of climate change.”



Joao Pacheco, Senior Fellow at Farm Europe, highlighted: “The US and the EU share agreement that it’s urgent to mitigate climate change and adapt to the consequences.”



Common goals and challenges



The new cooperation rests on the US and EU having common goals on agriculture and the climate. They may take different pathways to reach them, said US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and the new platform is a place to exchange knowledge and information and to promote mutual understanding and trust on the journey.



The US is committed to developing and deploying new technologies, new practices and new methods in agricultural production: “The US stands behind the importance of science-based, data-driven decision making… we must also guard against trade barriers and restrictions that are not based on science.”



Both continents have many challenges and opportunities in common, said EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski, so it is vital to share knowledge and solutions. This common ground includes farm size; lack of digital connectivity in rural areas; and the challenge of building a more resilient food chain after the pandemic exposed the vulnerability of food systems on both continents.



Europe will learn vital lessons as it transitions to greener food production under the Farm to Fork strategy, and it is important to share this knowledge with the US more fluently than before, said Mr Wojciechowski. “As two of the largest agri-food producers, importers and exporters in the world, the US and the EU are in a strong position to lead this change.”



The right moment?



But why is this the right time for this collaboration? And what signals do our panellists hope the transatlantic cooperation will send?
The US and EU have a responsibility to step up to the climate challenge and the challenge of feeding an ever-increasing world population, and do it in a sustainable way, said Mr Vilsack.



And Mr Wojciechowski added: “Like in the song, tomorrow will be too late.” He said that in one decade, Europe has lost four million family farmers because they simply could not compete in a culture of intensive agricultural production. Policy-makers need to give farmers’ families the chance to develop data-driven farms and sustainable agriculture such as organic production – all without reducing food production.



Agriculture – part of the solution?



The panel looked at the fundamental question of whether agriculture is the problem, or whether it can and should be part of the solution to climate change.



Mr Vilsack was clear: agriculture can gain quick wins. “The key is being able to measure and quantify the results that we obtain from climate smart agricultural practices and then to be able to translate that into some kind of market opportunity for farmers that creates a financial incentive,” he said.



Mr Wojciechowski highlighted carbon farming, saying it was vital to support farmers to introduce data from sustainable agricultural practices. He also said short supply chains are crucial to agriculture’s contribution on the climate.



The key question is not what the goals are, but how agriculture on both continents can get there through innovation. This was the view of Paolo De Castro, Member of the European Parliament, Committee for Agriculture and for International Trade. More time and money needs to go into considering new technologies, such as gene-editing to improve plant breeding, he said.



View on US farmers



Are US farmers and ranchers interested in embracing the sustainability agenda – and are they able?



With an emphatic ‘Yes’, Mr Vilsack said he expected so see “very significant action” from US agriculture, including farmers and ranchers.



“There has been a sea change in the US agricultural community to the point that farmers and the food system have joined together in an alliance to promote the need for large-scale commitments of demonstration projects and pilots to really learn more about exactly how climate-smart agriculture works and to quantify and measure the results of it,” he continued.



The difficult topics



In the past, collaboration between the US and the EU has not always been smooth, said Mr Titterington. How would the cooperation agreement enable progress on topics such as trade, or R&D?



Mr Wojciechowski’s view was that having the platform would actually help to avoid difficulties such as in the past, for example on tariffs. And Mr Vilsack said there will be innumerable ways in which the platform can allow for meaningful knowledge exchange. He highlighted a sensor technology that allows farmers to identify crop areas that do not need any fertilizer, asking: “Is there an opportunity to work collaboratively to make that kind of sensor technology available and affordable to farmers across Europe and across the US?”



Dairy and livestock with zero methane?



The prospect of livestock farming without massive methane emissions was brought up by Mr Vilsack. Significantly reducing the methane emissions connected to livestock farming was a better option for the world than curtailing production, he said. Technology could offer ways to reduce and re-use methane – for example, feed additives to cut the amount of methane produced by the cow, and the ability to capture methane to convert it to fuel. “The US has dairy farmers who believe that with the right kind of technology they can get to net zero in a matter of years,” he said.



How to engage consumers?



Educating consumers was highlighted by Mr De Castro: “The problem is to try to explain to our consumers, to our public opinion that we need more science… good technologies, innovations.” He was optimistic about the acceptance of technology, saying that because of the pandemic people have become more aware of science. Farmers also have a responsibility to educate, and it needs to start with young people, said Mr Vilsack.



Closing the event, Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General of the European Landowners’ Organization, said that common and ambitious goals on will require a constant exchange of knowledge and information, along with common standards. “By setting out the common objectives and intent… we are perhaps taking the most important step.”



Have you enjoyed this taster of the discussion? Then watch the full event here



Transatlantic-pic-3



Our expert panel and attendees:

Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture

Janusz Wojciechowski, EU Commissioner for Agriculture

Paolo De Castro, Member of the European Parliament, Committee for Agriculture and for International Trade.

Moderator: Mark Titterington, Senior Advisor, Forum for the Future of Agriculture

Opening and closing remarks: João Pacheco, Senior Fellow at Farm Europe

Closing remarks: Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General of the European Landowners’ Organization.


A new partner
The Forum welcomes the IUCN as a new strategic partner

The Forum for the Future of Agriculture is pleased to introduce the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as its new strategic partner.



IUCN announcement


In the continuity of its aim to nurture the debate on agriculture and environment, the Forum warmly welcomes the IUCN and its globally recognized expertise in sustainable systems management and nature conservation. The Forum’s team is looking forward to this fruitful and complementary collaboration for the upcoming Regional Forum in France (December 2, 2021) and the Forum’s 2022 Annual Conference in the Brussels Square Meeting Center (March 15, 2022).


IUCN join our existing partners who work together with our founding partners under the guidance of the chairman to enable the strategic development of the Forum and help to shape its annual work program. The partners also act as a sounding board and provide counsel on our thought leadership activities and positions. In addition, the partners exchange knowledge and expertise on what works on the ground, constructively challenge each other, as well as other stakeholders in their community, to help create a more sustainable food system.


“IUCN recognises the need and is committed to engaging and involving all stakeholders in the transition to sustainable agriculture. By joining the ForumforAg, we will seek to address the urgent need to change our food and farming systems to tackle both the climate and biodiversity crises.” – Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Head of Policy and Programme, IUCN European Regional Office.


Janez Potočnik, Chairman of the Forum, declares: “IUCN is a global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. A partner fitting well into the Forum’s mission and activities. We welcome them in joining forces for the future we want.”

 
IUCN logo

About the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

IUCN is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources and reach of its more than 1,400 Member organisations and the input of more than 18,000 experts. This diversity and vast expertise makes IUCN the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.
Visit IUCN website >

 

A new look
Our new logo symbolises our revitalised Forum

We are proud to introduce our new logo, which reflects a revitalised Forum for the Future of Agriculture, ready for the future challenges and opportunities around sustainability and biodiversity.



Forum logo

Since 2008, we have brought agriculture and the environment together through open dialogue. Our new logo puts agriculture and the environment at the heart of our identity and reflects how our organization has developed and gained a much greater, global reach. We started out holding an event for a few hundred interested stakeholders in Brussels, and today we can reach many thousands through our hybrid events which are both physical and virtual.



In this year of COP26 and the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit, there is greater momentum to tackle the opportunities and challenges
of climate change and biodiversity loss – where agriculture has a vital role to play. With our revitalised organization, supported by our partners, we aim to make a deeper contribution. We feel now is the right time to have a more contemporary brand identity to reflect this.


The butterfly, the air, and the land

The centrepiece of our new logo is a butterfly which symbolises the urgent need for greater sustainability overall, and especially to protect and enhance biodiversity. A butterfly already featured in our original logo – but our new one has evolved to become multi-dimensional. Look closely and you can see the butterfly change into a landscape. The top, pale blue half, is the sky and the green lower half is fields of crops and forests.


Why a butterfly?

We chose to include a butterfly in our logo many years ago because their presence indicates the health of an ecosystem.
We feel their role is more important than ever in a world facing biodiversity loss.


The colours of nature

We have carefully chosen colours for our new branding that represent the importance of nature in tackling climate change, halting biodiversity loss, protecting water, and transforming our food systems to provide nutritious, healthy and safe food for the growing global population.


Forum colors


Growth green: Emphasizes that agriculture needs to be regenerative, protecting our environment while providing food security.


Air and water blue: Draws attention to the potential for agriculture to capture carbon from the air to mitigate climate change and highlights the importance of water in agriculture.


Earth orange: Highlights the importance of healthy soil in capturing carbon and maintaining crop yields.


Our name and our purpose bring continuity

We are still the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (Forum for Ag in brief). Our purpose is as true today as when we were formed – to be the place where agriculture and environment meet for an open dialogue. We have kept this statement in our new logo, linking our evolution with our history.


Our brand refresh will continue to evolve as we integrate our new visuals, colours and photography into all of our communications. Follow us on social media using #ForumforAg for updates.


We are ready for the opportunities and challenges of the future with our new inspiring logo that represents a more sustainable world and the contribution that agriculture can make when it works with our environment, not against it.

Let’s talk Regenerative Agriculture
We need a shift from end to end to towards regeneration

By Pascal Chapot
Group Head of Sustainable Agriculture Development at Nestlé

Nestle blog


I still remember visiting in one of the world’s most fertile regions of France and meeting a pioneering farmer who was growing hedgerows in his cereal fields. It was kind of a crazy idea. He was looked at with curiosity by his neighbors in their wheat fields, but he had a vision. In his field I could see and hear life: birds flying, insects chirping, the bushy small hedgerows protecting us from the fresh spring weather. On my right, the sound of silence, no life. That day I understood that something had to be done. I’m now convinced that protecting and restoring soils and biodiversity is non-negotiable for our future and the one of our planet.



On 30th June 2021, my colleagues and I joined a discussion with key global stakeholders on the role that large-scale regenerative agriculture can play in the future of farming. One that will help to restore and renew ecosystems. The independent dialogue – which was convened to support the United Nations’ (UN) Food Systems Summit – became the platform for lively debate between policy makers, farmers, youth, NGOs, multilaterals, and business people; all on a shared mission to find practical solutions and ways to implement them on a global scale.



So, what exactly was discussed? And what can be done to move forward from being an industry that is responsible for one-third of the global CO2 emissions to an industry that is helping to restore and renew ecosystems?



The role of farmers

Agriculture’s role in tackling climate change can be seen from two perspectives. On one hand, it is currently one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses; but on the other, it poses a great opportunity for positive change through decarbonization. This cannot be done without close and meaningful collaboration with farmers. By working together and helping these key partners, we can build a road to regenerative agriculture whilst protecting both food security and farmer livelihoods.



Soil health

The invaluable time that I have spent with farmers has taught me so much about the importance of soil. Farmed land currently covers about one-third of the world’s land surface and provides for more than 95% of global food production. Despite this, a recent UN report describes the status of the majority of global soil as in “fair, poor, or very poor condition.” This is the result of something known as ‘soil erosion’. It is a major environmental and agricultural threat worldwide and mostly caused by humans through intensive ploughing, monocropping, deforestation and overgrazing. Soils have become one of the most vulnerable resources in the world (1).



There are, thankfully, solutions. Soil erosion and deterioration can be alleviated by using sustainable, regenerative farming techniques like minimum tillage, permanent soil cover, crop rotation, organic fertilizers, agroforestry, and planting hedgerows. However, these practices are currently only used on a fraction of our global arable land. Scaling up will require three key actions: suitable policy incentives; technical support, training, and guidance to farmers; and financial mechanisms for those farmers to allow them to transition to practices that restore degraded land, measured through rigorous, scientific result indicators.



Nestle’s role and responsibilities

Here at Nestlé our motto has always been “Good Food, Good Life”. Our journey to sustainable agriculture started 20 years ago. We already work directly with hundreds of thousands of farmers, and indirectly with millions, via suppliers around the world. Building on this experience, we aim to promote regenerative agricultural practices in partnership with farmers, local research institutes and universities. We will ensure that we always take into consideration local nuances at play and look to maximize benefits to the environment and farmers’ incomes.



Government support

The current situation for farmers is a difficult one. They are stuck in a short-sighted system that looks only for profit and immediate productivity. Environmental sustainability takes years, if not decades. Farmers work with the uncertainties of nature: year one might be rainy, year two less so, and the third with spring frost. They have no other choice but to survive and adapt. So, they would benefit greatly from policies offering pragmatic, workable, people-based, and integrated solutions. In making this transition, labels and certifications on food packaging would also be very helpful, allowing consumers to feel accompanied, supported and invested in the change.



Facing a positive future

Discussions during the independent dialogue gave me hope. They were also full of optimism. Above all, they proved that there is a shared goal and a common consensus on how regenerative agriculture can be upscaled.



First, we must move forward using agreed-on, science-led definitions around the idea of regenerative agriculture. We must then acknowledge the key role that farmers play and help them in the transition to regenerative agriculture practices. From there, we must act speedily, in a collaborative manner with the industry (entire food value chain including consumers), because the next decade will determine our future and there is not a single day to waste.



We will work with a sense of urgency and positivity, to call for enabling policy framework and new business models that will incentivize ecosystem services. Real change will only come from a genuine belief that it can be achieved. We have the will and the conviction, now it’s time to get to work.


(1) www.unep.org/resources/report/global-assessment-soil-pollution


 
Pascal Chapot

Pascal Chapot
Group Head of Sustainable Agriculture Development at Nestlé

 

UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue: Mainstreaming regenerative agriculture
Executive summary

UNFSS header



On the 30th of June 2021, 77 experts and stakeholders from the food supply chain gathered to debate on the concept of regenerative agriculture and its implementation. The conversation revolved on its definition and scope, its measurements, and the means to its expansion. Co-organized by the Forum for the Future of Agriculture, the main findings of the discussions were officially submitted to the UN Food Systems Summit.


Findings



Currently, there is no precise definition for regenerative agriculture that is recognized and approved by the entire food chain, academia, or public authorities. As a concept, regenerative agriculture focuses on how to ‘restore and enhance the capacity of soil health and biodiversity’. Regenerative agricultural practices look at the positive impact on the natural assets, as well as the social and economic dimensions of agriculture.



Understanding the baseline from which the farmer can start applying regenerative practices is crucial to measuring progress. Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to farming that considers the biophysical environment of the soil, but also the broader efficiency of land use. It is looking at multiple ranges of public goods production, and involves practices looking at soil protecting and regenerating systems, biodiversity-friendly operations, integration of better water management systems, restoring soil life, and more. As knowledge about regenerative agriculture continues to grow, farmers and the value chain are learning that practices must be flexible to take into consideration the region-specific, and climate-specific context of the land. Only with a strong legislative framework, orchestrated efforts upstream and downstream of the food value chain will farmers be able to adapt and change practices. But if the legislators, buyers, and processors don’t recognize the need for change, it will fail just like past attempts to implement widely nature-friendly agricultural systems.



UNFSS header



There was a large consensus on the need for a common language among all stakeholders of the food system to agree on terminology and to avoid greenwashing. One clear finding is that regenerative agriculture happens at local/regional level. Trying to set strict, rigid standards for larger scales can only fail, due to the complexity and variety of systems at scale. Further, farmers need to be placed at the center of the food systems, by listening to their needs and supporting them with proper advisory systems that would come from independent bodies. The latter seems to be a key trigger to support the transition towards sustainable practices at scale.



Possible solutions could include organizing independent payable grassroots advice and developing new tools to help farmers to understand the impact of their practices on climate, environment, and health. By ensuring long-term relationships among the food chain actors, this builds trust and gives the farming community the long-term security they need to be able to be economically viable. Most importantly, regenerative agriculture needs to be easy to understand for farmers and lower levels of administrative burden by building the reporting and data collection systems into the existing ones rather than creating new reporting grids. This would help them to communicate their work and raise public awareness while transferring their knowledge; it would accelerate the consumers’ education, motivate them to make better choices, provided the food distributors reflect the farmers’ efforts and processors equalize prices.



The major current challenge is socio-economic. How can we integrate these practices, while continuing the business and be profitable? Current processed food sourced from Regenerative farms are mostly premium products; the challenge for many processing companies is to make those products mainstream. To do so, costs of production need to be reflected and somehow shared among the value chain in order to secure farmers in this transition.



Hence, local systems need to change holistically if it is to be mainstreamed. Trying to set strict, rigid standards for larger scales can only fail, due to systems’ complexity and variety.



Recommendations



Data collection and centralization are at the center of the success of implementing Regenerative agriculture. One way would be in establishing European, National, and Regional food Councils that can be a centralized body for advising all and creating protocols to guide food systems transitions including data measurement and certification. Also, building coalitions around specific outcomes objectives such as resolving the many certification schemes in harmonizing requirements, outcomes, or moving toward healthier diets would support knowledge exchange and education of stakeholders, and would allow stronger communication campaigns being picked up by the various bodies engaged in the process.



Step up the dissemination of expertise, both information, advice, and best practices through the creation of Communities of Practice. Lots of knowledge has been built up and introduced to farmers, but processors, retailers, and consumers must be educated as well. Public authorities could create an investment fund for communication and awareness-raising.



Public and private collaboration should be more strongly supported and reinforced; this should become a backbone in organizing farmers in communities of practices, promoting the ambassador role of first movers. Other actors of the food value chain would also benefit from closer collaboration in public-private partnerships. This would help to close the gaps and misinterpretations of today’s farming systems.



Subsidy schemes, farmers’ incentives (price premiums), sustainability outcome (carbon) markets, and differential taxation systems could mitigate true transition costs and pricing; products produced by nature should be less taxed than processed ones. Further, regenerative agricultural practices could be used as the backbone of carbon farming standards delivering carbon certificates to buyers and processors, as an indicator to show applied practices’ impact.



The evolution of farmers’ profession over the past forty years calls for a crucial adaptation of their training; redefining the focus of already-existing public-private training systems would enable farmers to progress on sustainable practices. Agronomic schools and universities should systematically integrate those practices in their educational programs, for the next generation of agronomists, farmers, advisors to be ready to solve today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.



There is a need to speed up radical rethinking of our food policy framework, towards an integrated food system policy that is able to rebalance forces. Redefining consumption from owning to using; redefining production from mass sales to providing efficient functionalities; redefining core economic incentives such as taxation and subsidies. It would also mean making integrated wellbeing, including natural capital accounting, the objective across all policies; measuring sustainability with a lifecycle perspective, and looking at innovation in categories of economic ecosystems that provide societal functions, rather than in categories of production sectors.



Areas of Divergence



Given the diversity of the participants, the emergence of a number of areas of divergence was to be expected during this dialogue on regenerative agriculture. These mainly focused on issues related to the benefits of regenerative agriculture, how to measure these, who captures or shares in the value, and how to ensure that the grower is both at the center of the movement and is fully supported during the transition process. All of these elements reveal how complex it is to make regenerative agriculture mainstream and scalable.



Benefits



One of the key areas of divergence lay in the definition and evaluation of the benefits. Some participants felt that the primary benefit of making regenerative agriculture mainstream and scalable lies in the acceleration of low environmental impact farming with a specific focus on the greater adoption of biological inputs and processes like precision farming.



Others saw the primary benefit in regenerative agriculture as supporting a systemic transformation based on the principles of circular economy but also encompassing carbon farming or the recycling of raw materials.



In addition, there was a view that the benefit actually lays in the creation of increased value for regenerative agriculture production techniques which could be shared across the food chain although, not surprisingly, there was a question about how much would filter back to the primary producer – the farmer.



Finally, there was a question about whether regenerative agricultural practices should solely focus on improvements in soil health when monitoring progress, or whether it should be broadened to embrace biodiversity, livestock, and sustainable water use.



Measurement



The divergence on benefit was subsequently reflected in the discussion about what and how to measure outcomes both to understand the impact and drive continuous improvement. Most of the criteria mentioned in order to measure progress were oriented towards environmental measurement and even social impacts but it was impossible to ignore the economic dimension given the important role it plays in incentivizing and sustaining behavior change.



It is clear that building a consensus on the key benefits to include in the scope of regenerative agriculture and an effective and holistic criterion for measuring progress will be essential if the goals of mainstreaming and scaling are to be achieved.



Finally, there was limited or no agreement on whether measurement should be exclusively outcome- based or also include action-based approaches.



Transition and the role of the farmer



The question of benefit and what and how to measure progress was clearly linked to the role of the farmer. There were, at times, passionate exchanges between participants who felt that growers were being asked to respond to the latest protocol from public and private sector actors who may not fully understand what works at the farm level. And, inevitably, this catalyzed a further discussion about the extent to which the farmer (bearing all the transition risk over an extended period of time) would be rewarded for making and sustaining changes by public or private actors (who may only be interested in one or two aspects of the benefits matrix).



This clearly showed up in relation to soil protection where some participants argued that an exclusive focus in one area could lead to a negative impact on others (e.g. yield).



There was a very strong view, articulated by some participants, that mainstreaming and scaling regenerative agriculture needs to start with the farmer at the center of this. Several participants argued that only lip service is being paid to this and that the change or innovation model still serves the interests of the established agri-businesses.



Although none of these areas of divergence are insurmountable, they do seem to touch on the fundamentals of how to mainstream and scale regenerative agriculture.



There is a need to speed up radical rethinking of our food policy framework, towards an integrated food system policy that is able to rebalance forces. Redefining consumption from owning to using; redefining production from mass sales to providing efficient functionalities; redefining core economic incentives such as taxation and subsidies. It would also mean integrating well-being across all policies; measuring sustainability with a lifecycle perspective and looking at innovation in categories of economic ecosystems that provide societal functions, rather than in categories of production sectors.


To watch videos from the dialogues click here.

To read the full summary of each session click here.



UNFSS quote


Regional event brings together stakeholders in person and online
FFA2021 Portugal summary

FFA2021 Portugal



The FFA2021 Regional Portugal brought together stakeholders to discuss Food System Renewal for a hybrid event that took place in Santarem, Portugal. The event was also broadcast online to hundreds of viewers who attended through the Forum’s unique digital venue. The FFA2021 digital venue, which remains open for the week, features various rooms for digital attendees to explore including a kitchen with sustainable recipes, a lounge to network and a virtual exhibition area with stands to access exclusive content from.



The day was opened with a compelling speech from FFA2021 Chairman, Janez Potočnik, who calls for urgent action saying: “It is high time that global and local communities live up to the promises they have made about sustainability. Whether it is about access to water, international trade agreements, or climate change.” The former Commissioner stressed that there is still time left to avoid the worst effects of climate changes, so long as we band together.



The first session highlighted the importance of sustainable water use, water saving technologies and how they can be placed in the hands of farmers and ensure that they have the right knowledge and practices to employ them. In that same session, Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General of the European Landowners’ Organization, also spoke of the importance of equipping farmers with the right tools for farmland management practices and how farmers can be supported with the green transition.



Going beyond sustainability on the farm level, the second session examined how to increase sustainability standards in European and global trade deals, the responsibilities of the public and private sector when it comes to enforcement of any sustainability chapters, and how non-governmental actors such as businesses and NGOs play their part in delivering on trade sustainability.



The afternoon featured a Solutions Workshop exploring the role of New Genomic Techniques (NGT) in agriculture and plant breeding. The first hour focused on how NGTs can support farmers towards reaching the targets embedded in the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy. The second hour investigated the potential of NGT as a tool to tackle climate change on both an EU and global level.



There were some clear takeaways from the event: the only way to protect our precious natural capital is for all actors of the food value chain to work together. Water management will be a critical issue not only in Southern Europe, but around the world. We must provide farmers with the best tools to manage their lands, protect biodiversity and care for soil health. The future of international trade relations will need to embody not just the potential economic gains, but also take full account of the environmental, climate, and social externalities.



This week’s events were organised under the auspices of the Portuguese Presidency of the European Council. To learn more about what was discussed during the day, visit www.forumforagriculture.com where the events will be available to watch, free of charge. The Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) has been contributing to the debate on agriculture and the environment in Brussels since 2008 and is now firmly established as the premier event of its type.



Videos are being added as they become available. To watch available videos from the events
Click here
.

New Genomic Techniques – Sustainable tools to face climate change?
FFA2021 Solutions Workshop Pre-read

FFA2021 Solutions Workshop pre-read 1




Learn more about the recent developments on New Genomic Techniques and why they may become an important tool to tackle climate change and support the targets in the Farm to Fork Strategy with our FFA2021 Solutions Workshop pre-read blog.



Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their breakthrough work in developing the CRISPR/Cas9 toolkit for genome editing. This technology, along with similar developments in the field of new genomic techniques (NGT), has extraordinary potential for scientific development, including in the field of agriculture.



However, the July 2018 ruling of the European Court of Justice has classified products obtained through the use of NGT as falling “by principle under the GMO directives”. Given the harsh level of restrictions faced by developers as it concerns bringing ‘classic’ GMO-derived plants on European markets, this judgement has caused European legislators to (re)consider how these tools can best be legally brought to market even though the current situation remains uncertain.



In light of the ECJ ruling, the Council requested an updated study from the European Commission that outlines both the state of play regarding the scientific developments in the field of NGT, and proposed follow-up measures that could be considered. This study has recently been published.
As the state of play in the field has advanced considerably in recent years, including plant products that could have the potential to contribute to several long-term European policy goals, including the Farm to Fork Strategy, the EU Green Deal, as well as the broader UN Sustainable Development Goals. Although the European Commission has relatively wide discretion where it concerns legal remedies to allow broader European applications of NGTs, there are clear political and societal hurdles to clear.



One of the most vital tools to overcome these hurdles is to demonstrate the practical advantages of NGTs and to alleviate societal concerns. With promising developments in terms of increased disease resistance, drought tolerance, better nutrition, and a reduced need for inputs such as fertilizers and crop protection products, NGTs could play a significant role in delivering greater sustainability to European and global agriculture if properly developed, legislated, and distributed. There are further – though still hypothetical – advantages to the broadening of scientific development and market placement by smaller companies (given the overall lower costs of NGT development when compared to ‘classic’ GMOs) that would allow for greater competition in the field of seed breeding.



During the first part of the discussion, we will have a dialogue about the potential upsides that NGT could bring to European agriculture, specifically where it concerns the EU’s long-term aims of agricultural and climate sustainability as embodied in the Farm to Fork Strategy as well as the Green Deal. How can these tools be placed in the hands of farmers and what advantages can (and should) be demonstrated in the field.



In the second session the discussion will be focused more specifically on the potential and role that NGT can serve in the fight against climate change particularly where it concerns the specific challenges of Southern European agriculture; reduced water access, increased temperatures, soil erosion and desertification and more.



To join the live dialogue
Click here
to register or find out more details.


FFA2021 Workshop pre-read 1

Increasing sustainability standards through trade deals
FFA2021 Regional Event Pre-read

FFA2021 Portugal pre-read 1




This blog serves as pre-reading material for those interested in the second part of the FFA2021 Regional Portugal morning event which will explore sustainability and trade.



Lifting sustainability standards in international trade represents not just a critical component of delivering on global commitments on the environment, but also on labour conditions, the rights of indigenous peoples, and contribution to halting and reversing the climate emergency. In the wake of such commitments as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, and the EU’s new trade policy strategy, it is clear that the global community is trying to move past the age of outsourcing pollution, dumping, and the erosion of global labour standards.



The current difficulties surrounding the full ratification of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement provide a case in point. After 20 years of negotiations, the results are a historic moment for both trade blocs and should have served as a demonstration of global free trade in the face of a global withdrawal from such large-scale agreements. However, deforestation and wildfires in the Amazonian region in the last two years have rallied public opposition to the deal. While the European Commission has repeatedly assured governments and the broader public that the Trade and Sustainable Development chapter of the agreement addresses such concerns, the EU Ombudsman has recently concluded that the Commission’s handling of the possible environmental impact amounted to ‘maladministration’. Given that unanimity, including at the national parliament level, will be required to fully ratify the trade agreement, the current outcome remains uncertain.



Balancing economic gains with the possible negative externalities generated by increased economic activity remains one of the most difficult aspects of international trade. Agriculture and land use are often at the heart of such disputes, not just due to the emotional impact that food generates in the public, but also as they often generate real visibility for the consequences of global trade.



Furthermore, the land use footprint of the global agricultural food system is such that it has an outsized impact on global sustainability.
However, many actors in the public and private sectors are seeking to go above and beyond minimum requirements set out in trade deals and by national governments. Responsible supply chain management, contractually obligations for local suppliers, as well as bespoke arrangements such as extra payments for environmental stewardship are becoming more and more common. While such actions are often undertaken in the face of public scrutiny, many actors are now seeing the importance of trade when it comes to combating climate change and delivering on environmental protection.



Clearly, the future of international trade relations will need to embody not just the potential economic gains, but also take full account of the environmental, climate, and social consequences of any agreement. Even existing trade deals could, in future, become subject to revision as new science and unforeseen consequences trade relations become manifest.



During this session, we will ask the panel to discuss how to increase sustainability standards in European and global trade deals, the responsibilities of the public and private sector when it comes to enforcement of any sustainability chapters, and how to prevent dumping and outsourcing of environmental and climate consequences.



To join the live dialogue
Click here
to register or find out more details.


FFA2021 Portugal pre-read 1