WWF-France European Conference on Sustainable Agriculture: A Place for Discussion About the Future of the CAP
On October 14th 2008, WWF-France and FNCIVAM (a network of French sustainable farmers) staged a conference on sustainable agriculture in Europe. While the Health Check of the CAP was laying the foundation of its future reform, the conference aimed to raise the issue of sustainable agriculture in Europe and in the world, and to consider environmental issues in the 2013 CAP reform.
About 15 speakers from various backgrounds all over Europe (farmers’ representatives, institutions, experts, NGOs…), including Michel Barnier, Agriculture & Fisheries Minister of France, John Bensted-Smith, from the European Commission DG Agriculture and Rural Development, and Stéphane Le Foll, Member of the European Parliament, discussed four major issues :
- How to feed the world with a less intensive agricultural model.
- Addressing climate change and preserving biodiversity through agricultural know-how.
- The incentives needed to pay for the social and environmental services provided by farming.
- Supporting semi-urban agriculture and reinventing local food systems.
What is at stake?
Expert involvement and local experience brought to the fore a consensus on the nature of the current and future challenges of agriculture, both at the European and world levels.
Environmental damages resulting from the dominant agricultural model were pinpointed: water pollution, soil impoverishment, threats to biodiversity and human health, and the increasing importance of climate change. The dismantlement of local structures by “modern” agriculture was also discussed.
The speakers also largely emphasised the issue of the growing food insecurity. This situation is all the more appalling given that daily world food production could feed more than 12 billion people. Among the reasons for such an imbalance is the specialisation of different world regions in certain types of crops, as well as the significant waste of food, particularly in developed countries.
What is sustainable agriculture?
One of the main objectives of this conference was to demonstrate that agriculture does have the means to face these challenges by bringing together efficient production, environmental protection, healthy food, job creation and dynamic rural areas.
Presentations highlighted the urgent need for a future agricultural policy reoriented towards truly sustainable options: low input agriculture (pesticides, fertilisers, water, energy…), biodiversity integrated as a production factor, diversification of production, quality and economically-efficient agriculture.
This definition, far from staying theoretical, has been put into practice by many farmers all over Europe for decades. In France, the CIVAM network stands as a good example. Many of the CIVAM farmers, who formerly relied on intensive agriculture, gradually moved towards sustainable practices in the 1980s. Such a change represented an alternative, both to the growing economic costs linked with modern agriculture techniques, and to the damage caused to the environment. Today, their experience proves the feasibility and the benefits of such changes, both from the environmental and economic points of view.
A consensus on the utility of a European agricultural policy for addressing environmental issues
During the conference, the debates reflected a wide range of positions about CAP reform. However, consensus emerged on two key issues:
- the need to keep a European budget suitable for tackling agricultural and rural issues. On the positive side, the CAP was mentioned as a framework for food production and market regulation.
- the necessity to reform the CAP with new orientations, the current ones mainly fitting with the traditional intensive agricultural model and making the CAP illegitimate in the eyes of European citizens.
Various opinions were also expressed about which steps could be taken to reform the CAP.
An emphasis was put on the distribution of subsidies between the first and the second pillar. The large dependence of the second pillar on Member State funding was seen as a risk which might curb its positive effects. The idea of reallocating subsidies was backed by some promising examples of small or medium-sized farm businesses prioritising the diversity of species and crops over the expansion of productivity associated with an intensive agricultural model.
The question of strong land policies was also tackled as a major way to achieve sustainable agricultural policies and territorial cohesion. Such policies would allow for better access to land and a balanced geographical distribution of production, and would resolve the problems associated with the specialisation of territories and of farm concentration.
In a nutshell, the WWF network puts a premium on the much-needed shaking-up of the CAP...
In a nutshell, the WWF network puts a premium on the much-needed shaking-up of the CAP towards a more coherent policy, based on the replacement of the current polluter-paid principle by the polluter-pays principle, and on the reallocation of public money to public goods (sustainable water management, soil protection, habitat protection, rural employment, etc.).
The organisers of the conference underlined the necessity to reinforce farmers’ ecological culture and to consolidate environmentalists’ agricultural culture, so as to build a common project that, above all, is viable on social, economic and environmental fronts.
22 Dec 2008
Amandine Desetables, WWF France
Amandine Desetables is a Sustainable Agriculture Officer for WWF-France.
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