Farmers need closer cooperation with food supply chain

Written by Paolo De Castro on 10 October 2017 in Opinion

Agriculture is under increasing pressure both to produce more food, and preserve the environment, writes Paolo De Castro.

Agriculture is under pressure to produce more food, more e­fficiently and more sustainably, in line with the so-called ‘sustainable intensification’ model. To overcome this important challenge, it’s useful to think of agriculture as ‘an industry of constant innovation’.

In fact, the next agricultural revolution is likely to come from information, digital technology and big data, which will help farmers make better decisions and increase crop yields. Innovation is key to prepare agriculture for its future challenges.

It will help better allocate factors of production, diversification of production, increase the quality of food, and reduce pollution and the negative impact of certain climatic conditions. It’s clear there is a close link between innovation, productivity and sustainability.

Developing solutions that combine all three enables farmers and growers to produce safe, healthy, affordable food in the most sustainable way possible - for this to happen, we need a robust, predictable and science-based approach to regulatory decision-making (as underlined in the lively debate opposing GMOs and new breeding techniques).

By 2050 humanity’s ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent compared to current levels, intensifying the pressure on already strained natural resources.

At the same time, more people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruit, vegetables and processed food as a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside these trends, the planet’s changing climate and the greater variability of precipitation and increase in the frequency of droughts and floods, will throw up additional hurdles since every aspect of food production will be affected.

Hopefully the planet’s food systems are capable of producing enough food in a sustainable way, but obviously major transformations will be required in order to unlock this potential. First of all, we should guarantee more investments in agriculture and in agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development.

These measures are crucial in order to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases and find the best solutions to cope with water scarcity and climate change. A closer connection between farmers in the food supply chain should be encouraged in order to strengthen the cooperation between the rural and urban market.

The aim should be not only to improve competitiveness, but also to e­fficiently manage resources and the environmental performance of supply chains and economic systems in rural areas.

This is why the system of knowledge and innovation is a strategic lever for agriculture and rural development, as is the case with precision farming.

Parliament’s resolution on the promotion of innovation and economic development in the future management of European farms has called on the Commission to focus on the use of precision farming in future revisions of the CAP.

It is fundamental to ensure that all farms, including those located in remote areas and smaller regions, have access to multipurpose technologies, given the need to maintain and raise employment levels in the most vulnerable areas while guaranteeing sustainable income for farmers and safeguarding the environment and biodiversity of all areas.

Along with these tools, we should also be able to ensure consumers’ access to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices. This approach will allow the primary sector to achieve a more targeted and tailor-made production, whose quantifiable and qualitative outcomes are less uncertain and more predictable.

At a time when the ‘return to agriculture’ has emerged as a new social phenomenon - paying attention to the environment, landscape, social inclusion and quality of life - it is particularly important to establish public policies that accompany this process, presenting a comprehensive and integrated approach.

Future generations cannot be thought of simply as the receivers of a new and more sustainable agricultural sector: young people must indeed be a constitutive part of the process that affects this switch.

To ensure youth involvement in agriculture, the agricultural policies should not focus only on financial incentive, but also on the overall rural transformation, where agriculture is a pivot for structural growth.

Agriculture can be made more appealing to young people, with the right mixture of measures and support.

It is clear that at a time when food prices are extremely volatile, policies should help to reduce or mitigate other areas of uncertainty in farming, creating a more dynamic agricultural sector that will drive poverty-reducing growth as well as attracting the ‘talent’ of future generations.


About the author

Paolo De Castro (S&D, IT) is a Vice-Chair of Parliament’s agriculture and rural development committee

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