Agriculture is the cornerstone of the biggest industry in Europe, the agri-food sector, has a turnover of €715bn, or six per cent of European added value, and contributes for more than €100bn to EU exports every year. Beyond this reality, food safety and food quality are becoming increasingly important to society and consumers. Expectations that production methods and processes are sustainable and respect the environment are growing and so is the demand for quality and concrete actions to fight against the loss of biodiversity and climate change.
In this context, we gave a new orientation to the common agricultural policy (CAP) with the reform recently agreed with the European parliament and the council. The new framework will be fairer and better adapted to the diversity of EU agriculture, help young people to invest in agriculture, strengthen farmers' position within the food chain and enhance the sustainability of agricultural practices across Europe.
"Quality is a key expectation of the EU citizen and a strategic lever for farmers to create added value, generate growth and jobs"
Another essential focus of the new CAP is on research and innovation. If agriculture wants to meet the multiple expectations emerging from society and contribute to tackling the challenges of food security, food safety, quality, sustainability and climate change, it has to be more and more knowledge-based. Farmers need to be aware of, and have access to, the best practices available. This also means that we need to innovate to produce more and better with fewer resources.
That's why the European commission has highlighted food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime and inland water research, and the bioeconomy as a top priority for Horizon 2020, the new EU framework programme for research and innovation. With nearly €4bn, the budget available for research and innovation in this field at EU level will nearly double. An important part of this budget will be spent on research and innovation in the agri-food sector and in the overall supply chain. This will contribute to increasing the competitiveness and sustainability of the whole agri-food sector and the wider bioeconomy.
The change we propose is not only about budget, it also involves the way we work. We will develop so-called multi-actor approaches and thematic networks to ensure interactions between researcher, businesses, farmers/producers, advisors and end-users. With this, we want to stimulate the joint creation of knowledge and the exchange of knowledge in research and innovation projects. This in turn will support innovation-driven research, taking into account the existing diversity of farming and agri-food systems throughout Europe's various regions and making the most of it. It is crucial to build bridges between laboratories and fields, between academics and farmers.
"It is crucial to build bridges between laboratories and fields, between academics and farmers"
A concrete example of this new approach is the European innovation partnership for agricultural productivity and sustainability (EIP-AGRI) which I launched two years ago. The EIP-AGRI goes beyond speeding up the transfer from laboratory to practice and focuses on setting up real partnerships – using bottom-up approaches and linking farmers, advisors, researchers, businesses, and other actors in practical innovation projects.
With their rural development programmes, member states can support innovation projects on the ground, implemented by EIP operational groups. We are creating an EIP network supported by a website, which we hope to turn into a one-stop shop reference for agricultural innovation in the EU, providing information on research and innovation projects, sharing results and good practices, as well as funding opportunities for innovation action.
We need a wide mobilisation to help the agri-food sector tackle all the challenges it is currently facing, not only investing in research and innovation. Enhancing and promoting the quality of EU agricultural products is also a priority. Quality is a key expectation of the EU citizen and a strategic lever for farmers to create added value, generate growth and jobs.
Only in this manner will the European agri-food sector continue to fulfil its role as a world leader, not only in economic terms but also in terms of technology and sustainability. This is crucial if we want European agriculture to deliver food security – and to produce more and better with fewer resources, in the long term. In parallel, we need to support developing countries in their efforts to build their own agricultural policies – policies that are, like the CAP today, not developing one against the other, but compatible and all going in the same direction: more food security, sustainability, stability, growth and jobs.