Slow Food and IPES-Food: “Sustainable food systems are the only bulwark against insecurity”

IThey are the result of reflections emanating jointly from the Slow Food movement and the transdisciplinary initiative IPES-Food (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems), which are part of a holistic approach to food systems in order to bring them together environmental, social and public health objectives.

Urgency of the news requires, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, and Olivier de Schutter, former special rapporteur of the United Nations on the right to food and co-president of IPES-Food came, a few days ago, to the heart of Brussels, to present and discuss ways to move towards more sustainable agriculture and food.

Advocacy for the “Farm to fork” strategy

First of all, they are committed to defending the European “From farm to fork” strategy announced in May 2020, resulting from work carried out by NGOs, MEPs, members of the Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee , scientists, to reflect on how to move towards greater coherence between the various sectoral policies which all affect our food. It’s agriculture, health, environment, social, trade.

Egypt, which was previously a major wheat producer thanks to the fertility of the Nile, today buys 80% of this raw material from Ukraine, after the fall in its production due to urbanization and desertification. – Photoagriculture – stock.adobe.com

For Olivier de Schutter, this is a project “not only extraordinary in terms of content with very strong commitments, such as 25% of agricultural land being organic by 2030, a 20% reduction in use of nitrogen fertilizers, but also by a remarkable spirit of democratic conquest since the commission had succeeded, with civil society, in putting a real food policy on the European agenda”.

According to the co-president of IPES-Food, there was unfortunately a hiatus between the former commission which had proposed the reform of the CAP, and the one which was elected in May 2019 and which did not really revisit the fundamentals to align it with the new strategies of the European Green Deal.

For its part, Slow Food supports emergency measures to support vulnerable populations, but believes that the rollback of several ecological measures included in this new European orientation would completely undermine the direction taken by the commission within the framework of its Green Pact. to ensure long-term food security.

Because “while short-term emergency support measures are important, they do not replace the importance of reorienting the food sector in the long term towards sustainability and resilience,” said Carlo Petrini.

Increase production to calm the markets?

It is the situation of countries that have increased their dependence on grain imports over the years that worries the co-president of IPES-Food the most.

“We had already seen this with the food crisis of 2008 and those who had insufficiently invested in food crops and who were faced with a price increase of around 200% for wheat, corn, soybeans and rice “.

History is unfortunately repeating itself for Egypt (which used to be a major producer of wheat thanks to the fertility of the Nile, but today buys 80% of this raw material from Ukraine, after the fall in its production due to urbanization and desertification), Somalia, Yemen.

But especially for Lebanon, where 80% of the population has fallen into poverty over the past two years due to the Lebanese pound which had already suffered a 90% drop before the start of the war in Ukraine, compared to at the end of 2019. This made all the products it imports extremely expensive.

Should we increase production in order to calm the markets? Although he understands this reflex, Mr. de Schutter does not adhere to it for the simple reason that it is not a question of a lack of stocks or volumes at harvest level, but of an extreme dependence on certain countries, which have under-invested in their production, to Russian and Ukrainian exports.

Between them, Ukraine and Russia provided about 30% of world wheat exports, and at the moment, 6 million tons of wheat are sleeping in the holds of ships stranded on the Black Sea.

We are in a situation where we have two tectonic plates that are in conflict.

On the one hand, from the outset of the CAP, we favored the idea that it was necessary to achieve economies of scale, to favor large monocultures harvested in a highly mechanized way because it was the most efficient way of produce at affordable prices.

We have also developed the idea that each region should specialize with regard to its strengths by betting on the fact that it will be able to import what it does not produce on its soil.

It is the image of a modern, industrial agriculture which has long seemed to be the solution with the objective, even the obsession, of lowering prices for the end consumer. It was well helped by the subsidies of the first pillar of the CAP which were part of a process of guaranteeing food security.

On the other hand, in recent years, considerations of soil health, biodiversity conservation, consumer health, animal welfare, antibiotic resistance have interfered, all of which are no longer linked to the issue of volumes and prices.

At the center is a CAP which has wanted to become greener since 1993 and the “From farm to fork” food strategy which now wants to guide European policies.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Covid-19 pandemic have demonstrated the fragility of our agro-industrial systems

For Olivier de Schutter, “crises should not be seen as production problems and the agroecological transition should not be sacrificed to them. Because the strategies of the Green Pact are not just there to preserve the health of soils and humans”.

They are there to build resilience based on production that is less dependent on external inputs, which recycles agricultural waste into inputs as part of a circular economy approach.

These strategies constitute a way of organizing the production circuits that link local producers to consumers in such a way as to reduce the energy required for transport, but also to create solidarity within a territory and, finally, to reduce dependence on markets and the volatility there.

“These are resilience strategies in the face of economic and geopolitical shocks and this Ukrainian crisis reminds us of the fragility of systems as the Covid-19 pandemic had already done where we had experienced breaks in the supply chain with seasonal (and often exploited) workers who could no longer travel. A workforce of which certain countries and regions (Flanders, the Netherlands, Spain) found themselves deprived almost overnight”.

Each time we have a crisis, we come to the same conclusion: we should have prepared for it and anticipated it. It is for this reason that “transition governance” is needed, further points out Olivier de Schutter.

” The Commission

must not give in

to productivist narratives”

For Carlo Petrini, it is reassuring to read that the committee underlines the need for a fundamental reorientation of EU agriculture and food systems towards sustainability. However, this desire is contradicted by the derogation from the greening measures aimed at bringing additional agricultural land into production.

For Olivier de Schutter, the strategies of the Green Pact are there to build resilience based on production that is less dependent on external inputs, which recycles agricultural waste into inputs as part of a circular economy approach.
For Olivier de Schutter, the strategies of the Green Pact are there to build resilience based on production that is less dependent on external inputs, which recycles agricultural waste into inputs as part of a circular economy approach.

And to specify that “the commission must not give in to short-sighted interests and productivist narratives that have long since been dismantled by science”, he said before adding that “our decision-makers must show courage to pursuing the only solution that will ensure food security now and in the future: reorienting our food systems towards agroecology now”.

The Slow Food movement regrets the repeated attacks by the agri-food industry and its lobbies against the “Farm to Fork” strategy, which has gained in strength since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, pushing to delay or even give up, the transition to sustainable food systems based on agroecological practices.

“This will only weaken the resilience of our food system to shocks, including those related to the climate crisis,” lamented Carlo Petrini.

“We have seen that their tactics succeeded in convincing the commission to delay the revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD) rather than to strengthen it significantly as demanded by more than 70 organizations”, he still regretted.

Agroecology and short circuits, a resilient strategy

The main factor that explains the current rise in prices is the massive use of fossil fuels in agricultural production systems: fertilizers and pesticides, tractors and combine harvesters, transport of raw materials and processing. At all links in the chain, the agro-industrial system consumes a lot of energy and is highly dependent on changes in the price of oil and gas.

But there are other links between the food market and the energy market. Among the financial products that banks sell are “commodity index funds” composed, in fixed proportions, of oil and gas, minerals and agricultural products. In other words, when the price of energy increases, mechanically agricultural prices also increase.

The only resilient strategy to protect us from this is to untie agricultural markets from energy markets.

For Olivier de Schutter, this means stopping encouraging the development of agrofuels, encouraging short circuits, which are less dependent on energy for transport and processing, supporting agroecological production methods that are much less energy.

“In terms of food quality, soil health, production costs, job creation, this shift to agroecology ticks all the boxes.”

Marie-France Vienna

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