Forum for the Future of Agriculture

Following on from FFA2009, which was held in Brussels in March and featured key speakers including Paul Krugman, Marian Fischer-Boel, Neil Parish, and the FAO’s Alexander Sarris, the Forum on the Future of Agriculture has gone on the road during May, taking in Madrid, Milan, and most recently, Kiev, examining the local issues in the debate on how to achieve food & environmental security.

Madrid – May 13th 2009

First stop on the road was Madrid, where the national Forum was organized by the Spanish organizations of Syngenta and the European Landowners Organization (Grupo de Empresas Agrarias). This event continued to reflect many of the themes of the main Brussels conference and produced another engaging debate with over 100 participants, mainly comprised of Spanish landowners and agriculture officials.

ELO speakers, in particular, presented their views about the challenge of feeding the planet in a sustainable way, whilst ensuring that European society benefits from good rural development.

But other speakers, Syngenta included, detailed the fundamental need for modern technologies in food production and the protection of the environment, as well as explaining the consequences of the new EU Crop Protection legislation and regulation for Spanish agriculture.

Many of the Spanish officials attending the event took the opportunity to present their views about the possible effects of CAP reform scenario in the central Spain provinces.

In general, there was a common understanding that feeding the world should mean maximizing production on the available cultivated land and only ploughing extra hectares when it makes sense. To achieve food self sufficiency, use of modern technologies such as machinery, fertilizers, crop protection, GMOs, and even IT, must be developed and optimized.

All participants agreed that in this strategic fight against hunger, Europe, including Spain, has to keep a high level of food production to contribute to world supplies.

Most felt that this can be done without harming natural habitats and within a harmonious rural development. But many stressed the need to remunerate farmers for the “public goods” they provide to society.

Milan – May 18th 2009

A couple of days later, the Forum moved onto Milan and, in particular, Mezzana Bigli (Pavia), the farm of Federico Radice Fossati. The meeting was led by the two Italian associations of the Friends of the Countryside and addressed the topic, “the earth and the new investments between production, environment and energy”.
Over 300 participants – (making this the largest of the sub-forums) – were received in a beautiful “Granè”, this is the local name for the old granaries in typical Lombard rural style of the ‘700.

The two presidents, Mario Boselli and Giuseppe Visconti, introduced the activities, engaging the participants on the balance between three fundamental elements: food, energy and environment.

The word then passed to Francesco Brioschi, professor of Economy and Finance to the Polytechnic University of Milan that introduced and moderated the round table, and invited the speakers to help participants rediscover the central role of agriculture for food production, protection of the environment and energy efficiency, with realism and scientific rigor for the sustainable development of our planet.

The first discussant Dario Casati (Pro-Rector University of Milan) who said “The crisis is served” and “humanity in order to nourish itself must absolutely make the most out of the agricultural activities… put simply, the earth is a special good and it is indispensable for the survival of the human species. Economic logic must be applied to the production process in agriculture”.

“In order to increase food availability it is necessary to increase the productive yields, a not easy objective, but possible thanks to agriculture technologies”.

Michele Pasca Raymondo (General Director Regional Policy, European Commission) “Two elements are of particular importance in agriculture: the demographic vulnerability and the vulnerability to the climatic change”. “And for the first element we need to create new job opportunities for the development of the territory, the integration of the agricultural companies, and the diversification of the agricultural activity (multifunctionality).

Robert Flies (Councilor DG Environment, European Commission) said “Nature is a cultural capital, supplying us with goods and services. The challenge is on the balance between economic development and protection of nature. The antagonism between economic development and protection of the environment is a false problem. In reality the two requirements can cohabit, indeed they need to be integrated”.

Flies continued, “Obviously all this cannot happen in an easy way but the Professional Associations should provide their message to society on the fact that they are supporting the nature”.

Alessandro Ortis (President of the Authority for Energy) subsequently argued that, “In the attempt to protect production and the environment, the investments in agribusiness represent a meaningful node”. For him, agriculture is central as consumer but he also made clear it is an energy provider.

He continued, “…in the current [food] crisis, energy has been one of the concomitant causes, along with the rise of the price of oil and other energy resources”. Signor Ortis then argued that in the future it would be important to ensure that energy, from being “one of the concomitant causes of the crisis”, becomes a positive driver in sustainable agriculture.

Syngenta’s Romano De Vivo (Syngenta) followed arguing that “we need 50% more food by 2030 in the context of water shortages and a changing climate. And there isn’t enough additional land to cultivate without threatening natural habitats. Technology can enable us to achieve it and to do so sustainably. “

In order to demonstrate the enormous potential of agriculture to meet our needs, Federico Radice Fossati, who considers himself to be both a farmer and entrepreneur, concluded the meeting by introducing the participants to the recently inaugurated production site for biodiesel, right at the heart of his multifunctional farm.

Kiev – May 29th 2009

Although smaller in scale than either of the events in Madrid and Milan, the Kiev Forum provided the basis for a rich discussion amongst the participants about the potential of Ukrainian agriculture not just to produce what the country needs but to contribute to overall world supplies.

It was clear from the discussion that there is great potential to significantly increase the yield, productivity, and consistent quality of crops across the country, particularly in wheat and in new ones like Sorghum.
Such an increase in output from a country like Ukraine could eventually make it a major player in world agriculture, capable of satisfying demand for both food and non-food uses of crops at home and abroad.

However, to exploit the potential a number of key factors were identified by participants, including:
• Long term political stability, which was seen as key for attracting investment into the sector;
• Availability of credit for farmers and agri-business alike, which has dried up in the current financial crisis;
• Replacing the current moratorium on the sale of agriculture land which would enable the development of a functioning marketplace;
• Development of the physical infrastructure to support the expansion and utilization of capacity; a robust legal framework, ensuring practical and enforceable rules; and extension services to provide agronomic knowledge and the sharing of best practice.

A number of the local agribusinesses which participated in the meeting, including Chumuk, Myria, and Syngenta, shared with the participants the creative approaches adopted in the Ukraine to support sustainable agriculture. These include minimum tillage, land assembly, knowledge and education sharing, alternative finance mechanisms to enable farmers to cope with loss of credit facilities, and sponsorship of local community facilities.

In conclusion, it was clear from the discussion that participants believe there is a bright future for Ukrainian agriculture and that the country can become a key player in the achievement of food and environmental security.

FFA2010 is provisionally scheduled for March 16th 2010 in Brussels – save the date!

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