Reducing fallow land, bailouts, revisiting crop greening targets: Faced with the shock of Ukraine’s conflict in agricultural markets, the G27 are seeking to increase production to bolster food security in the EU and respond to the risk of shortages in other regions of the world.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine, two of the largest grain exporters, has pushed the prices of oils, wheat, soybeans, rapeseed and corn to record highs and sent fuel and fertilizer prices skyrocketing, Europeans are keen to support their farmers. But above all, the EU is looking to increase its production to offset the fall in animal feed supplies (more than half of corn imports come from Ukraine) and alleviate fears of a severe food crisis, especially in Africa and Asia.
“War tomorrow will lead to the risk of famine,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday. The EU must therefore “take on its educational role,” insisted his colleague in agriculture, Julien Denormandie, ahead of a meeting in Brussels on Monday with his European counterparts.
450 million euros to help farmers
Before Wednesday’s presentation of its roadmap for an agri-food strategy, the European Commission presented several proposals on Monday, including support for private storage in the pig sector and the use of a “crisis reserve”, a €450 million fund. The euro is planned to help farmers in case of price instability. The Framework Agreement will allow States to provide additional assistance. “Each country should be flexible enough to create individual plans according to its needs,” Finnish Minister Jari Leppa said.
First of all, the European executive wants to temporarily loosen its sweeping rules on non-collateral lands. Under the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will come into force in January 2023, farms larger than 10 hectares were required to leave at least 4% of the land unused to promote biodiversity. “In the coming months and beyond, we must anticipate a global deficit. The Commission’s proposal will return 4 million hectares of cultivated land to the EU,” said Austrian Minister Elisabeth Köstinger.
Finally, the states are asking the Commission to review their strategic plans accordingly, which are lowering the future CAP at the national level, while some farmers are already preparing their rotations for 2023, which, according to Julien Denormandie, is “a matter of common sense.” “CAP was created to guarantee predictability and food security for Europeans, this should remain a priority,” agrees his Spanish colleague Luis Planas Puchades. Austria advocates accelerating a “vegetable protein plan”, also promoted by Paris, to cut imports of soybeans and corn from the continent. “There is an opportunity to make the agricultural sector more sustainable. But I do not think that the contributions to the (greening) strategy should be abandoned and weakened,” said Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner for Agriculture, on Monday.
“Europe cannot afford to produce less”
Some states are calling for a revision of the European Farm-to-Table strategy, which aims to cut pesticide use by half, fertilizer use by 20% and a quarter of the land devoted to organic fertilizer by 2030. which, according to several studies criticized by Brussels, will lead to a drop in yields. “This strategy was based on the pre-war peace in Ukraine. Its targets must be reassessed, Europe cannot under any circumstances afford to produce less,” President Emmanuel Macron said last week.
In unison with environmental NGOs, the Commission believes, on the contrary, that the planned reduction in pesticides and fertilizers (potash from which comes mainly from Russia and Belarus) will strengthen European independence, revitalize the soil and, therefore, improve food security on the continent. “In the short term, there is no problem with the supply of wheat (at the global level), but there is concern about access for the most vulnerable segments of the population,” for whom the market price becomes unaffordable, reminds the non-governmental organization Oxfam, which advocates the green strategy of the EU. and agriculture based on “local and small-scale” production.