The agricultural sector is facing a crisis that can only worsen in the coming years and the European Union has a lot to do. Responsible for 25% of the Greenhouse gas effect, agriculture is also the first victim of climate change. The first point to tackle is therefore a climate issue. Second, the world population is growing, which means that the EU has to increase its production. Finally, the European Union is the first exporter of agrifood products: maintaining its rank is also part of its challenges. The EU must therefore maintain and even improve the quality and sustainability of its products. So how is the EU dealing with these challenges? What strategies could the EU develop in the future?
In order to respond to these new challenges, the European Commission adopted the new work programme for the promotion of agri-food products on November 14, 2018. With a budget of 191.6 million euro, this programme will aim at opening up new market opportunities for EU farmers as well as helping them set up their own business. Two calls for proposals will be launched before the end of January 2019 under the supervision of the Consumers, Health, Agriculture and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA). The calls will mainly consist of information campaigns both in third countries (which offer a high potential of growth and therefore new market opportunities for EU products) and on the internal market (in order to inform consumers on EU quality schemes). Among the expected results towards European consumers, the programme will have to increase the level of recognition of the EU logo associated with the Union quality schemes and to highlight the specific features of agricultural production methods and their merits.
But will this new programme be sufficient to respond to the challenges of the agricultural sectors? How can the EU further respond?
Changing the agricultural model
Intensive agriculture is not relevant anymore. Agro-ecology seems to be the solution to cope with future challenges. This method consists of a way of designing production systems that are based on the functionalities offered by ecosystems. It amplifies them while aiming to reduce pressures on the environment (e.g. reducing greenhouse gas emissions, limiting the use of plant protection products) and preserving natural resources. The aim is to make maximum use of nature as a factor of production by maintaining its capacity for renewal. According to the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, this method could ensure food security by 2050 in Europe. Encouraged by the European Commission, 19 organisations from 10 countries have set up in 2016 an association called Agroecology Europe bringing together people from throughout the food chain. The association is working towards promoting agroecology for the sustainable development of farming and food systems and encourages practices and solutions that provide farmers and the nature with multiple benefits (environmental, economic, social) from the local to the global scale.
Regulating trade competition and raising awareness
Today, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) does not allow the implementation of barriers based on environmental norms. This makes harder the environmental transition for farmers. Indeed, the consumer, who has the choice between expensive organic/local products and more affordable basic ones will most of the time choose the less expensive. If the WTO rules seem difficult to change (if we do not want to fall into a protectionist system), the European Union will, through the new EU programme for the promotion of agri-food products, organise awareness campaigns in order to prove to citizens the benefits of organic food on their health and on the environment.
Even if the pressure on agricultural products is high due to increasing demands both in terms of quality and costs, the EU should also see this situation as an opportunity to differentiate, add value to its products while reducing negative climatic and environmental impact. Alternative production systems seem perfectly adapted to the situation since they would allow the EU to specialise in a sector where it can be competitive while ensuring the protection of the environment. Even if the transition must be accompanied by a change in mentalities in order to be successful, the new EU programme for the promotion of agri-food products will provide a real support for this transition. This new programme is a good complement to the LIFE programme, which contributes to a transition to a low carbon and efficient economy in the use of resources, and to the EAFRD programme, which aims at improving the competitiveness of agriculture and at promoting the sustainable management of natural resources.