At the ninth annual Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) in Brussels on Tuesday, attendees discussed ways in which the world could meet the food and environmental security challenges at the heart of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Former EU environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik kicked off the talks and highlighted that achieving the SDGs, "will require the extraordinary effort of every societal and economic actor."
Potočnik added that the SDG's agreed last September, "represent nothing less than a change in the way we live and organise ourselves. Delivering on the SDGs is about delivering both food and environmental security at the same time."
"To do this, we must maximise our nutrient efficiency and move towards a circular economy that prevents waste and pollution throughout the food chain and in our societies."
Potočnik, the current chairman of the Rural Investment Support for Europe (RISE) Foundation and chair of this year's forum, underlined that saving the environment was, "not just up to governments and NGOs, it's everyone's job."
He added that, "most solutions will be quite basic in nature. We must disrupt and rethink innovation."
The Slovenian also acknowledged that actually implementing the SDGs and transforming the current agricultural model "is the greatest challenge we will face in this century and the next, and it comes at a difficult time, given the refugee crisis and a country possibly leaving the EU."
Nevertheless, he maintained that the only way forward was, "more Europe."
Next up was Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, who shared with the audience that he himself had grown up the son of the farmer.
In a keynote address to a packed auditorium, Steiner explained that modern-day farming was no longer simply about farmers making rational decisions, and that their process was now much more influenced by products available and market demand.
As such, he said, "even though farmers in Europe face very different choices and opportunities as those in Kenya, and their work must be understood within a national reality, they are still influenced in the same way by the global agricultural economy."
He warned that we were, "continuously compromising our ability to feed the world", and that a third of what is produced around the globe is not consumed. Steiner added that it would cost €44bn (€39bn) per year to end hunger by 2025.
He said that given our current levels of waste, "there is no question that the future of agriculture will have to be radically different." The problem, Steiner explained, was that current farming systems were engineered to maximise production - not optimise it.
The UN official also underlined that, "rethinking agriculture over the next 30 to 40 years may be as significant a challenge as tackling climate change."