Debate blogs

FFA2017 blog 1 – Time for solutions: Rebooting the system?
2nd Mar 2017

This blog is part of an online debate taking place in the weeks before FFA2017 in Brussels.
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To find out more about the online debate click here.

Time for solutions: Rebooting the system?

A personal viewpoint from FFA Chair Janez Potočnik

Today, we live in a globally connected society, where our food habits span the globe. The way we produce and consume has direct effects on the environment, public and personal health, and lives of people we will never meet. However, both abroad and at home, we still cling to the idea that national governments can solve these issues singlehandedly, and worse, that one ministry, be it for health, agriculture or environment can solve the problem alone.

We need global actions that break through these silos so that we can tackle global problems that will have as much impact on you and me as it will on a farmer in Haiti or a factory worker in China. Unless we become fully aware of the interconnected nature of our lives in the 21st century, and get the governance structures to match, we have no hope of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and of living within the planetary boundaries.

The SDGs, which were ratified in 2015 and represent seventeen major policy areas, range from affordable and clean energy to ending hunger to sustainable use of our oceans. The SDGs recognize that today we are all connected in a kind of a global village, and that everybody must play their part. Under the SDG agreement, the EU and your government have committed to one hundred and sixty-nine targets to guide them; a list set out by the world’s best thinkers and scientists. If that sounds very long and complicated, it is because the challenges we face today are not simple to solve.


How can we translate these global goals into local actions?
What steps should we take first?

The start should be to re-evaluate our approach to food and how we make political decisions.

Today, we still more or less break down all the bits in the food chain; the farm is one category, the truck that takes your grain to the processor another, the factory that turns it into cookies is a third, the supermarket yet another, and you – the consumer – are seen as different again. Such a segmented approach cannot solve our problems.

We need to fully understand this if we are to make the correct changes to the institutions that set the rules. We need to see that we cannot have policies and government that look at the individual pieces, but not the whole puzzle. If we want to fix the connections between the farm and the fork, halt our current food waste and achieve the SDGs, we must begin by connecting our policy areas and restructuring our governments around the problem, not the sector.

Right now, the majority of us try to divorce our consumption from its consequences and we prefer to blame others for our problems. This does not just happen at the personal level, but government ministries do the exact same thing.

What we need is more fundamental honesty in our behaviour on individual and institutional level. We need to comprehend the complexity of the food system challenges and join the forces to address them.

Janez Potocnik

Janez Potočnik

From 2010 until November 2014, Janez Potočnik was Commissioner for Environment, European Commission. In 2004 he joined the European Commission, first as Shadow Commissioner for Enlargement and then as Commissioner responsible for Science and Research. He is currently appointed for a three-year term as a member and Co-Chair of International resource Panel hosted by United Nations Environment Programme. He is also Chair of FFA2017 and Chairman of the RISE (Rural Investment Support for Europe) Foundation.

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