Forum for the Future of Agriculture

In less than 24 hours, FFA 2009 will be fully under way. Various key-note speakers and distinguished guests will be debating the issue of food security at the Bibliothèque Solvay in Brussels. To further understand the forum’s purpose and expectations, we spoke to Thierry de l’Escaille, Secretary General of the European Landowners’ Organization (ELO).

For the second time, ELO and Syngenta are co-hosting the Forum on the Future of Agriculture (FFA). Why are you doing this?

After last year’s hugely successful event, we felt that there was a real need to keep up the momentum in Brussels of debating these vital issues. Both ELO and Syngenta firmly believe that an integrated policy for an interdependent pair of challenges, namely food and environmental security, is the best way of providing Europe’s land managers with the framework to increase food production, whilst protecting and enhancing the environment. However, it is of course a hugely difficult task to integrate food and environmental security measures, to ensure that they are coherent and mutually supportive. Likewise the practical operation of policy is similarly difficult to achieve. The environment is so complex and there are difficult balances to be struck. We therefore feel that the best way to resolve some of these issues is by providing a platform for open debate, bringing together experts from government, industry, and civil society. That is what the Forum is all about, and is why we consider it essential to continue hosting it.

What is the focus of this year’s event and why is it different to last year?

Well, last year’s First Forum was held against a backdrop of rising food prices, increased demand and poor harvests. This year the Second Forum will be held against a backdrop of a global financial crisis, which has diverted attention away from these important issues while political leaders try to find an effective response to the problem. So the backdrop is different, but essentially the challenges in terms of producing food and protecting the environment, remain the same. So this Second Forum, will of course acknowledge the crisis, and debate the issues of food and environmental security in the context of the financial crisis. We as organizers believe that the financial crisis has, if anything made this debate even more timely and important.

What kind of people do you expect to attend FFA2009?

So far we have participants from almost all of the Member States registered, as well as from places as far as New Zealand and Japan. The kind of people who will come to the Second Forum are from all echelons of government, industry and civil society, who recognize that, unlike the financial crisis (the worst of which will probably have passed in the next few years), the challenges of food and environmental security are long-term. They recognize that if we in Europe are going to play our part in helping to feed the 3 billion more people who will be on the planet by 2050, then some serious decisions need to be made, and soon.

What do you expect the outcome of FFA2009 to be?

I think many of the participants will of course welcome the fact that some attention has again been turned back to agriculture and environment. However, I think that there will certainly be recognition of the huge uphill battle we face to respond to these challenges. We are very fortunate to have so many top level speakers presenting at the Forum. We are all, myself included, waiting with baited breath to hear what they have to say and look forward to the lively debate that is sure to follow.

More interesting interviews, video footage and reports will be added during FFA 2009.

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