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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Looking further afield: What does the future have in store for Agriculture?

Brussels recently witnessed the 5th Forum for the Future of Agriculture.  The conference, first held in 2008, opened discussions on the future of both the European and world agricultural sectors. While debates focused principally on two main issues, namely food and environmental security agendas, expectations of the presentation of the Brazilian case study by the executive President of EMBRAPA, Mauricio Antonio Lopes, were more than satisfied, as some participants told CTA-Brussels.
European Commissioners, including Dacian Cioloş and Janez Potočnik, MEPs, National Government Ministers, Industry Leaders, NGOs, International Organisations, as well as academics, actively participated during the Q&A discussions and “live-tweeting” speakers' most important remarks.

Global agricultural challenges: A question of paradigm?
Geo-technology was the kick-off event. Speakers, such as Parag Khanna, the Hybrid Reality Institute Director, and Christopher Delgado, from the World Bank, reminded that the main issue with food security does not have to do with sources of supply but rather access to these. Taking the case of Africa as an example, they stressed that the main obstacle for the continent is indeed the “lack of infrastructure”, and raised the question of why Europe sells food instead of “sharing technologies”.  Some key remarks also pointed to the global food system as being the result of geopolitical stability “or instability”, and governments' willingness to protect markets.
Participants paid close attention to the presentation of the case study on Brazilian Agriculture. Mauricio Antonio Lopes, illustrated how Brazil has become food secure in a short period of time.  According to his presentation, the country has a diverse and dynamic agricultural system and benefits from an active and growing private sector, which supplies technologies and technical assistance.  Moreover, Brazilian farmers are progressively adopting conservation practices, and more resource-efficient processes.
Mr. Lopes raised awareness about the further need for strategic thinking in Agriculture and insisted that sustainability and economic growth can be complementary. Speaking of Europe, some statements made during the Q&A by participants pointed out that the main problem is the present paradigm of intensive agricultural production, which has been abandoned by countries such as Brazil and Canada, later becoming conservation-agriculture-oriented.
The morning session closed with the prospective for more innovative agriculture, where speakers appeared to agree that this sector “lack[ed] research". In addition to this challenge, speakers emphasized that Europe needs a different perspective concerning subsidies, and that the world has to better address and tackle the food waste issue.

Special note on CAP reform
The afternoon's pace was set by discussions on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). During the event, and as CAP reform will be debated in the coming months, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Dacian Cioloş,  suggested approaching the reform from a historical perspective, thereby facilitating emphasis on “its main dynamics […] and see the reforms' medium- and long-term's guidelines”.
Expressing concern over the trouble faced by farmers, he called for a “clear line” at both political and budgetary levels, and urged work on a realistic effort, avoiding the sale of “idealistic illusions”. Accordingly, he pointed out the necessity to “offer instruments on which [member states] are capable of finding consensus”.
He listed two main problems pertaining to the performance of the CAP in the last 20 years. First, Mr. Cioloş stressed the meaning of the CAP and instruments thereof, as knowledge of these is restricted to a very small group of experts. As for the second problem, he addressed the means of action. In his opinion, and even though the CAP has been successful in certain aspects, the EU has only gone half a way. “Today´s CAP somehow pushes farmers to race against time […] not only must [we] guarantee food safety [but also] respond to society´s more and more pressing demands”.
For Mr. Ciolos, the EU should have another look at the completion rules, as agriculture appears to be fragmented. Likewise, he highlighted public authorities’ duty to offer legal instruments and ensure “these put in place effective safety [and less costly] mechanisms”.
The EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development told participants of the crucial necessity of restoring the sense of the CAP and concluded by underlining that farmers “must have real control over their future”.
Like most speakers, during the debate of the panel he insisted on the complexity surrounding the  EU27's reaching an agreement, as it is easier said than done when trying to carry out new measures related to agriculture. “This is not a question of Brussels, this is reality”, he stated.
One has to remember that, referring to the international arena, Dacian Cioloş recently spoke of the need for coordination and coherence at the EU level, and called for an integrated approach: "Agriculture is discussed from a lot of different angles and its international component is getting more and more important. Our approach cannot be efficient on trade, development and sustainability if we are not coherent and transparent”.

Source: CTA