Authors: Serafin Pazos-Vidal and Miranda García (AEIDL)
In opening the first-ever EU Agri Food Days in Brussels on 6-7 December , European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen highlighted the great contribution that the farming sector is doing to food security and economic development. She cited that “our agri-food exports increased by 16% in 2022. We are almost or completely self-sufficient on a wide-range of essential foods – from wheat and tomatoes to meat and dairy, contributing to our strategic resilience”.
However retaking the topic she also covered in last September State of the EU address 2023 she highlighted that agriculture are confronted by a wide range of challenges: a competitive global market where farmers are most often the more vulnerable part of the value chain, the difficulty to pass farms to the next generation and global political and climate crisis which have an impact in crop prices, animal disease outbreaks, price shocks for fuel and fertilisers, and eventually resulting in food price inflation to citizens.
While she acknowledged the €300bn, five-year-long national CAP Strategic Plans contribution to address these issues President Von der Leyen calls not only not to ignore the polarisation that characterises some of these sensitive issues such as the use of pesticides or fertilisers. “We should not ignore this polarization. We should address it”, she said.
For that purpose, Ms Von der Leyen is calling a Strategic Dialogue to be launched next January, bringing together with farmers and food entrepreneurs, scientists and technologists, retailers and consumers, environmental organisations, animal rights groups, big and small players, traditional and organic food providers. She called this new Strategic Dialogue to address the following questions:
- “How can we give our farmers, and the rural communities they live in, a better perspective, including a fair standard of living?
- How can we support agriculture within the boundaries of our planet and its ecosystem?
- How can we make better use of the immense opportunities offered by knowledge and technological innovation?
- How can we promote a bright and thriving future for Europe’s food system in a competitive world?”
Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said that the title of this major conference “Sowing the Future of EU Agriculture” is a fitting one. In his view this future will be based in what he calls “the ‘4 S’s – security, stability, sustainability and solidarity”.
Food security is the foundation of society, as shown by the exceptional measures adopted during the COVID-19 crisis.
As regards to stability, the Commissioner called for a “Common Agricultural Policy should continue beyond 2027, with a strengthened budget that is appropriate to the challenges and tasks faced by agriculture”, as this is a debate that is already starting, and DG AGRI has started to provide its findings and views for this debate. A key challenge he said that “between 2010 and 2020, we lost 3 million farms in European Union, falling from 12 to 9 million. That is equivalent to roughly 800 farms, disappearing every day.”
As regards to sustainability, the Commissioner highlighted the contribution that CAP Strategic Plans (CSPs) are making by introducing stronger incentives to help farmers adopt more sustainable practices. He specifically cited the promotion of organic fertilisers in Bulgaria, the Spanish CSP extra funding for sustainable grazing and mowing to reduce soil degradation or the Polish eco-scheme to improve living conditions for livestock. He highlighted the boosting of eco-schemes as desirable way forward for CAP post 2027.
Last but not least, Commissioner Wojciechowski highlighted the solidarity element of CAP, as he said that last year, 60% of EU wheat went to Middle East and North African countries, and 26% to sub-Saharan Africa, in the context of rapid increase of global population.
Best practices CAP Strategic Plans were also highlighted on the second day of the conference:
Gijs Schilthuis, Head of Unit for Policy Perspectives, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission highlighted the value of CAP to make agriculture more sustainable. The recent report Summary of CAP Strategic Plans for 2023-27: joint effort and collective ambition” confirmed in the Commission´s view the important role of CAP Strategic Plans for maintaining farmers’ income and food security, while supporting EU agriculture’s transition to a sustainable farming model in the 2023-27 period.
Miriam Augdoppler, Expert on Agri-Environment, Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management, Austria presented the Austrian Agri-environmental programme (ÖPUL). With its holistic approach, focuses on supporting biodiversity, protecting water resources, and preventing soil erosion. She highlighted that Austria’s environmental success is based on the CAP’s new delivery model, which links research and evaluation with education and practice. High participation and motivation are achieved through awareness-raising and the support of trained advisors, which is indispensable for farmers.
Ilona Kromāne, Deputy Director of department and CAP Strategic Plan coordinator, Ministry of Agriculture, Latvia valued the CAP farm and rural development support as effective ones as Latvia has seen a significant increase in the number of young people applying for these mechanisms. Latvia has also been successful in preventing funding from disproportionately reaching the largest operations, fostering competition and encouraging collaboration between farming, research and innovation,
Elodie Lematte, Deputy Director Agri-food sectors, French Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, highlighted that France has developed its Strategic Plan with a focus on resilience. Resilience not just to adapt, but to mitigate the effects (of climate change). In her view the French CAP Plan underlines France’s dedication to reducing dependence on imports and improving food autonomy.
However, these were only a small sample of the contribution that CAP Strategic Plans are making to deliver the EU environmental and food security ambitions. The Commission precisely released on the back of the EU Agri Food Days the report: EU agricultural outlook 2023-35. This medium-term outlook report provides an overview of the medium-term prospects for major EU agricultural markets, income and environment until 2035.
All this are useful food for thought as Tools4CAP to support Managing Authorities in delivering the ambitions of CAP Strategic Plans as the project entering its second year of existence.