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Agriculture after COVID-19: agroecology responds to our environmental and food security challenges  

​Guillaume Cros

​In this interview, Guillaume Cros (FR/Greens), rapporteur for a draft opinion on agroecology scheduled for adoption on 3 February 2021 at the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions, answers four questions on this environmental and social approach, which aims for agriculture in nature rather than in spite of nature. In the context of the forthcoming Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Vice-President of the Regional Council of the Occitanie-Pyrenees-Mediterranean region advocates, among other things, quantified European environmental objectives that are binding on the Member States and dedication of a minimum of 30% of the national payments envelope to eco-schemes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of our globalised agriculture and food system and has shown the importance of food security. However, in autumn a study by the US Department of Agriculture suggested that implementing the Farm to Fork Strategy would lead to a sharp decrease in agricultural production in the EU. Will agroecology cause us to go hungry?

While food security is an argument often used against agroecology, recent work by the IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations) shows that it is possible to feed the entire population of Europe by 2050 through a gradual agroecological transformation integrating livestock farming, crops and forestry with a zero carbon emission target. At the global level, the UN report published in March 2011 also showed that in just 10 years small-scale farmers could double food production in vulnerable regions using green production methods. As the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the weaknesses of our globalised agriculture and food system, agroecology, which goes hand in hand with the development of "place-based food systems", must enable Europe to secure its food supplies in the short term as well as in the long term by preserving our production factors such as soils, water resources and biodiversity.

The proposals of the European Commission, the Parliament and the Council for the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are strongly criticised for not being consistent with the objectives of the Green Deal and the Farm to Fork Strategy. What are your proposals for the future of the CAP, which is currently under discussion, to reconcile the economic profitability of farms with the EU's climate and environmental objectives?

With its climate objectives, the Green Deal, and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, the European Union has set environmental and climate objectives that require a systemic transformation of agricultural modes of production and food systems. Agroecology meets these objectives and ensures better profitability of agricultural holdings (as highlighted in the French Government's analytical note on the economic and environmental performance of agroecology, August 2020).

To this end, the future CAP, which is under negotiation, must support this necessary transition from agriculture to agroecology. To this end, I recommend in particular that quantified common European environmental objectives that are binding on the Member States be included in the Regulation on National Strategic Plans, that a minimum of 30% of the national payments envelope be devoted to eco-schemes and that support for investments in farms be subject to an environmental audit. In addition to these regulatory obligations, methodological support should be given to regional stakeholders to promote the adoption of the agroecological project in the mobilisation of the various voluntary measures of the CAP.

The European Committee of the Regions considers it essential to preserve agriculture in all regions in order keep rural areas alive and promote territorial cohesion. How can agroecology help us achieve this?

Agroecology goes hand in hand with a more local diet, which therefore helps each territory. I am also proposing a reduction in value added tax (VAT) on organic, local and seasonal products, a "local" meal voucher for these same products, and having a significant percentage of organic, local and seasonal products in mass catering. These measures will encourage the development of agroecological farms and small-scale processing workshops in all territories, thus benefiting rural employment. Moreover, agroecology, which requires less capital (mechanisation, inputs, land, etc.), would halt the disappearance of small-scale farming in countries where it is still significant. This would enable all EU countries to give momentum to agriculture and rural life with a positive social and environmental impact.

On several occasions in your opinion, you state that agroecology goes hand in hand with small and medium-sized farms. Why would large farms not be able to develop agroecology?

Agroecology does not just have a technical agronomic dimension but also a social and territorial dimension. While large farms, which have grown considerably thanks to uncapped CAP support, are a biodiversity desert, they are also a social desert, where employment and public services have disappeared, as we can see in "large-scale farming" regions. Agroecology goes hand in hand with a network of small and medium-sized farms, with diversified crops and medium-sized plots. The economies of scale, linked to the replacement of labour through use of petrol and chemicals, as well as to CAP support which favours large-scale operations, are no longer relevant in the time of the European Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

Background:

Guillaume Cros is also the rapporteur for two European Committee of the Regions opinions on the Common Agricultural Policy:

Reform of the CAP, opinion adopted in December 2018.

The CAP after 2020, opinion adopted in July 2017.

Press contact: pressecdr@cor.europa.eu