From farm to… where?

The consequences of COVID-19 have changed our perceptions of the future; our plans for farming must change accordingly, argues Mazaly Aguilar.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Mazaly Aguilar

20 May 2020

The European Commission will shortly be presenting its “Farm to Fork” strategy. To be honest, I have few certainties and many doubts.

I have been listening for months to the various commissioners repeating the same general arguments about the objectives of this strategy - to promote organic farming, reduce pesticides, incorporate new environmental obligations and improve animal welfare.

Despite all the pre-launch marketing, my doubts have not only not been resolved but have increased exponentially since the Coronavirus pandemic struck.


Many things in our lives have changed or will change forever, yet the fact that the Farm to Fork strategy was designed in a pre-COVID-19 context seems immutable.

This inflexibility, this lack of empathy towards farmers facing an unprecedented crisis, may take a toll on the efforts to achieve a goal that should unite us all: the protection of the environment and the sustainability of our agriculture.

The Commission has leaked that the crisis and food security will be taken into account in the new strategy, and to this end they propose creating an observatory to ‘monitor the situation’.

Once again, a new and bureaucratic structure is being created, marginalising the existing ones, with the sole aim of appearing interesting and spending funds that could be devoted to more useful things.

“Through innovation, we can aim to provide farmers with the tools to make their production more profitable, competitive and environmentally friendly”

Environmental and related NGOs want to continue with ‘business as usual’, but their roadmap, broadly shared by the Commission, makes mistakes that could take a toll on the preservation of the environment and natural resources.

If farmers do not manage to make a profit from their ‘strategic’ activity, they will abandon it and this abandonment will lead to desertification, further fires and the inevitable rural exodus.

To meet the challenge of agricultural sustainability, innovation must be one of the key solutions promoted.

Through innovation, we can aim to provide farmers with the tools to make their production more profitable, competitive and environmentally friendly. Every year, active substances are banned, meaning that farmers will not be able to use them despite the absence of alternatives.

The solution is clear, either abandon it or move on to more expensive and more toxic products. The Commission cannot turn a blind eye to fundamental scientific issues such as biotechnology and new plant-breeding techniques.

I suggest that the Commission should use the strategy to provide a solution and an urgent change in legislation so that organisms obtained through new breeding techniques do not fall under the scope of the Genetically Modified Organisms Directive.

Vice-President Timmermans and the Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski seem to share a similar ambition. Namely, to opt for a single model of agriculture - small organic farmers selling their products on the local market and who run livestock farms with a handful of animals.

Europe must not ignore the fact that most farmers, even if they are not organic, are opting for production methods with high standards that aim to make optimum use of natural resources such as water and soil.

“Europe must not ignore the fact that most farmers, even if they are not organic, are opting for production methods with high standards”

The EU must help them to value their work as they are, and will remain, the basis of our agriculture. I do not believe that there is a single production model capable of preserving food security and the environment.

The size of a farm or its production model says nothing ‘a priori’ for or against its contribution to the environment or animal welfare. Even today, we can find small and large producers who are doing things badly - but also find the opposite.

We must make a calm analysis, without prejudice and with scientific indicators for what each one contributes. Once again, communication and the fight against misinformation must be a cornerstone of the new food strategy that reinforces a balanced diet and consumer choice.

Livestock farming in general is in the spotlight, but conventional agriculture also does not feel sufficiently supported. The goal of reducing emissions cannot be achieved by reducing the livestock population but must focus on how to eliminate food waste.

After what Commissioner Timmermans has said, it seems clear that the Coronavirus will not succeed in postponing the Farm to Fork strategy and its roadmap of 26 key initiatives.

I think this is the case, and I say this with sadness and concern because we have not even managed to get the Community hierarchy to stop and think about new objectives, new instruments and of course additional funds for our agriculture.

It is true that we are facing a debate that has only just begun and that will keep us busy for a long time.

I can assure you that what I would really like to do is to focus, in the short to medium term, on helping to solve the brutal crisis that is plaguing our agriculture; however, I do not know if they will let me.