CAP has the capacity to help farmers react to changing consumer demand

Written by Phil Hogan on 21 February 2018 in Opinion

The challenges faced by Europe’s farmers require brand new solutions, says Phil Hogan.

Phil Hogan | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

Food security means that an adequate supply of food is available and produced in a sustainable way that respects the environment while ensuring balanced territorial development. The EU is one of the world’s leading producers of food and, with the assistance of the common agricultural policy (CAP), guarantees the food security for over 500 million citizens.

Several CAP reforms have made the EU agri-food industry globally competitive, market oriented and increasingly development-sensitive. The EU has played a leading role in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) pushing to eliminate export subsidies and other schemes that unfairly support agricultural products.

Last year, the EU became one of the first WTO members to formally implement the decisions taken at the Nairobi ministerial conference in 2015 on eliminating farming export subsidies.


Food security is at the core of EU agriculture which, over recent decades, has evolved into more consumer-driven, knowledge-based, innovative and high-quality food production. 

The EU’s agriculture contribution to overall food security has to be seen as a cross-cutting objective. It is based on increased market orientation and enhanced sector competitiveness.

These remain key to an EU agri-food industry able to respond to growing global food demand, fully assuming its solidarity responsibilities. Knowledge-based production is delivering added value as is efficient management of soil, water, air and biodiversity on nearly half of the EU land. 

Dynamic, thriving rural communities, which maintain farming at the core of their social fabric; a highly innovative, competitive and properly functioning food supply chain respond to demand and provide the incentives to drive production of high quality food as well as renewing the essential human and physical capital.

The recent Commission communication on the future of food and farming outlines the next steps, the challenges and needs for a thriving EU agricultural sector backed by a robust CAP. It underlines the key role of EU agriculture in ensuring food security and meeting consumer expectations of safety, quality, animal welfare standards and sustainable production.

The most recent Eurobarometer confirmed that Union-wide challenges such as food security justify an EU agricultural policy, a principle backed by more than 90 per cent of respondents.

Europe’s agriculture and rural areas face challenges that require new solutions. We need better advice, better training and advisory services for farmers and more innovation.

The millions of farmers and small businesses in rural areas need to be equipped, trained and connected to the latest technical possibilities, latest innovations and latest agricultural practices. We need to keep investing in research and innovation at EU level while ensuring that the results are accessible and applied on the ground.

The daily choices of consumers determine what and how food is produced. Traditionally, the CAP has focused on the supply side. However, increasingly the CAP has the capacity to help farmers react to changing consumer demand.  

For example, specific support is available for organic farming, a booming sector in the EU. Moreover, the EU quality policy on geographical indications helps provide added value not only to farmers but also to consumers.

We have also made important steps in promoting healthier nutrition. The EU school scheme, applicable from the 2017 school year, is designed to help encourage children to consume more fruit, vegetables and milk. This means also better education for healthy habits.

We have to do more to reduce, and ideally, eliminate, food waste. It has an impact not only on farmers’ income and on the agri-food chain efficiency, but also on final food prices, natural resources and resource energy consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. European agriculture has a role to play as part and parcel of the bio-economy of the future and in its contribution to the circular economy.

The Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and its objectives, endorsed by the world leaders in 2015, is clear: We need to eradicate hunger by 2030 through a common, global effort. Unfortunately, this seems to become a moving target. 

After a steady decline, the numbers began increasing again in 2016, with 815 million people facing serious hunger. They are paying the terrible price of conflicts, violence and political instability, in countries that were already facing high food insecurity.

We know that the world possesses sufficient land, water and people to farm. We have the technology and know-how, even to take on climate change. We produce more than enough to feed the world, but we waste or lose up to of 30 per cent of current production. To make zero hunger a reality we need to increase both productivity and resource efficiency. 

We need open, rules-based agri-food trade and we need sustainable food systems all over the world. Aid and trade have to be complemented by policies to promote responsible private sector investments in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

We need to encourage responsible private and public investments that avoid land grabbing, and pay a decent return to farmers, large or small. The challenge therefore a political one: to make zero hunger a reality we need global coherent actions in the UN and OECD but also in the G7 and G20. Working together, zero hunger is achievable. 


About the author

Phil Hogan is European agriculture and rural development Commissioner

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