Debate blogs

FFA2017 blog 2 – Time for solutions: Is the CAP fit for delivering the SDGs?
12th Mar 2017

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Time for solutions: Is the CAP fit for delivering the SDGs?

A personal viewpoint from Professor Emeritus Allan Buckwell, Director of the RISE Foundation report ‘CAP: thinking out of the box’

Agriculture has a crucial role to play in addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ensuring that European Union lives up to its commitments to these goals. Seven of the seventeen goals can be linked to agriculture, most notably the goals for sustainable production and consumption, climate change and ecosystem services.


The Common Agricultural Policy is the EU’s most developed sectoral policy which provides crucial support for agriculture and the rural environment in Europe. The CAP has always adapted to the changing challenges faced in Europe. For the next decade or two one of the most critical challenges is climate change which threatens agriculture. We must equip farmers with the knowledge and capacity to reduce emissions, to contribute to sustainable renewable energy production, and to adapt to whatever climatic conditions they encounter whilst continuing to supply our food. The technical challenge faced by our farmers is immense. Europe rightly demands reasonably-priced, high quality food, with world-leading ambitions for environmental protection and animal welfare. In addition, we want our farmers to carefully steward natural resources, offer flood protection, maintain and even enhance biodiversity, and provide the cultural landscapes for our rural holidays. All this whilst remaining reasonably competitive in supplying food in highly volatile market conditions. This are tough demands, and farmers can reasonably expect that the generously-funded Common Agricultural Policy should help them rise to these challenges.

The RISE Foundation invited a small group of experienced CAP analysts to think about how the CAP can be further modified to better help farmers rise to these multiple challenges. The report of the RISE CAP Reform group will be presented as part of the Forum for the Future of Agriculture at a launch event on March 27 in Brussels and as part of the conference on March 28.

Early conclusions of this work are that the biggest changes to the CAP must be to restructure the way we incentivise the right kind of land management required and how to help farmers better manage the multiple risks they face. It can be no secret that the aspect of the present CAP which has most to change to do this are the Pillar 1 direct payments; these are the core of the present CAP absorbing over 70% of the CAP budget. Indeed, the group makes no assumption that the two pillar CAP will be the most useful structure for the next phase of EU agricultural development. The next two decades will be a particularly interesting period of agricultural development because simultaneously a new age of technology of precision farming based on digitisation and utilising big data is arriving. This will enable more resource efficient, less leaky production systems which mange natural capital better and provide high quality consistent products. The CAP must provide the means for these developments, encouraging a new generation of farmers into the industry and providing the cohort of aging farmers a dignified opportunity to retire. Too much of the present CAP is not well targeted to facilitate these developments.

The RISE report tries to suggest how this complex jigsaw of land and risk management supports can be combined with the best of the existing rural development supports and perhaps new ways of encouraging and supporting transition. It also considers if the current policy decision making procedures could be better structured to maximise the chance of constructive dialogue between the main stakeholders in agricultural policy to work together.

Allen Buckwell

Allan Buckwell

Two thirds of his career Allan Buckwell has been as an academic agricultural economist specialising in agricultural and rural policy. This has involved his work as a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (since 2012), 14 years at Newcastle University and then from 1984-1999 as Professor of Agricultural Economics, Wye College University of London (which was merged into Imperial College). He specialised on teaching and research into all aspects of European rural policy dealing especially with the Common Agricultural Policy, trade issues, and technology and structural change in farming and its impacts. During 1995/6 he was seconded to the analysis and conception unit of DG Agri in the European Commission where he chaired a policy integration group who laid out a model for the evolution of the CAP. He joined the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) as Policy Director in 2000. Since then he has been involved in debates on how to balance the CAP as a policy for Food and Environmental Security.

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