Is Postponing the Agricultural Transition a Bad Response to Food Security?

Does the threat of food shortages linked to the war in Ukraine justify postponing the transition to greener agriculture in Europe? No, scientists and public organizations answer, calling, on the contrary, to move faster towards more sustainable and equitable systems.

The European Commission is preparing to approve emergency measures on Wednesday that will allow production to temporarily resume on lands set aside for their protection.

While Ukraine and Russia are major grain exporters, some Member States are also pushing for a postponement of the European timetable to reduce pesticide use.

Two legislative texts outlining those goals, which Brussels was due to present on Wednesday, have been put on hold indefinitely.

They proposed by 2030 to cut the use of pesticides by half, fertilizers by 20% and allocate a quarter of the land for organic farming.

These states are on the wrong track, NGOs and experts warn.

“This is very bad news,” worries Ahn Lambrechts of Greenpeace International in Geneva, where international negotiations are taking place to improve biodiversity protection.

In an appeal signed by more than 500 experts, scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Impact Research (PIK) call on the European Union to “strengthen, not abandon, the transition to a healthy diet that is fair and good for the environment.”

“Smart short-term measures are necessary, but long-term goals should not be neglected, because reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting biodiversity is absolutely necessary to ensure food production,” insists Hermann Lotze-Kampen, agricultural economist at PIK. .

Intensive agriculture contributes to climate change, pollution and poses risks to human health.

“We must not only pay attention to the supply, but also reduce the consumption of animal products and the number of cattle,” continues Hermann Lotze-Kampen.

– Economic aid –

Grain crops in Bos, January 31, 2022 (AFP/Archive – GUILLAUME SOUVANT)

“Today, the main reason we can run out of cereal in Europe is because we put too much of it in our engines and give too much to the animals,” explains Pierre-Marie Aubert of the IDDRI research centre.

About 60% of European cereal production is destined to feed pigs, chickens or cows, and just under 10% is used as fuel.

To increase agricultural production, “farming fallow land is not the solution,” he continues. Often “it’s bad land” and the fallow “provides key services that farmers depend on: pollination and pest control.”

In his opinion, in the short term, the solution will be to help countries that do not have the economic means to cope with rising grain prices.

The war in Ukraine also highlighted Europe’s dependence on synthetic fertilizers from Russia and potash from Belarus. However, “reducing the application of herbicides and nitrogen fertilizers by 30-50% in their mass use does not affect the yield, which remains stable,” according to CNRS experiments.

These blows to change the European agricultural model, which are not the first, show “the power of the product lobby,” analyzes Aleksandar Rankovic, a researcher at Sciences Po Paris who is following the talks in Geneva.

French President Emmanuel Macron is among those calling for a revision of the European strategy to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Such a position can be explained by the proximity of the presidential elections in order to win the traditionally more right-wing agrarian votes, observers close to the talks on condition of anonymity judge.

In Geneva, it is important that the discussions on biodiversity at COP15, which should define a global framework for protecting nature by 2030, lead to “changing agricultural and food systems through good agroecological approaches to agriculture and biodiversity”. “, Judge Guido Brookkhoven of WWF International.

The European Union is positioning itself there with ambitious goals.

Wednesday’s emergency measures “risk severely undermining the EU’s ability to claim leadership in global conservation when it doesn’t keep its word at home,” worries Anna Heslop of the NGO ClientEarth.

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