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Elisabeth Köstinger on Global challenges for a sustainable agriculture

24th April 2012

photo © EPP Group in the European Parliament

Elisabeth Köstinger is a Member of the European Parliament.

Food is more than just eating; food is lifestyle and food is an important part of our life quality. Therefore it is not just a trend that more and more people focus on high quality and tasty food that was processed in a sustainable way.

European farmers are top in the field of producing high quality food. Farmers produce high quality products while providing services of high societal value: In addition to safe food also multifunctional cultural landscapes and fine environment are provided by our local farmers.

For us as consumers, it is obvious today to get a broad offer of food at affordable prices. This is the result of the historical development and a joint strategy for the agricultural production within the EU. European agriculture is adjusted under the Common Agricultural Policy that provides an economical backup and helps farmers to improve their entrepreneurship.

The main goal of the CAP is to ensure food security for 500 Million consumers. The basis for food security is an agricultural presence not only in favored areas, but also in less favored areas; The great potential of Europe's agricultural production is that the production is covering nearly all of Europe's rural territory. Agriculture is mainly characterised by small and territorial farms activating economics in rural areas. For the future challenges it will be crucial to continue using each of the available agricultural land in Europe. To ensure the agricultural production in Europe and to provide fundamental public goods, it is still necessary to provide funding by the Common Agricultural Policy. In terms of total financial budget of the EU, the agricultural policy is has significance.  30% of the total EU budget is reserved for direct payments to farms and this provides a basic agricultural income. A further 11% of the budget is enhancing the development of rural areas.

Agricultural funding has a direct impact for consumers, as the measures within the CAP guaranty high quality standards and fairly stabilised prices.

I want to give the example of my home country Austria, where food production is characterized by quality, not by dimension. The domestic consumers rely on Austrian quality, 85% of the consumers prefer to buy local food. Due to farmer's efforts and their rising incomes, the account of private budget of an average household on food is only about 12% of the total household budget.

However, farmers worldwide have to face enormous challenges and I want to point out the three driving ones:

1. Environment and climate change: Agriculture and environment/climate change issues are directly linked. Farming practice can have beneficial (ecological value) or harmful (intensive agriculture) effects on environment. The provision of public goods like beautiful landscapes, water management, and so forth, do potentially offer environmental benefits. At the same time, climate change has on the long term, various effects on agriculture. For instance, land used for agricultural production is significantly decreasing and natural resources are considerably limited.  Agriculture will be challenged to produce "more from less". The challenge will be to produce on less agricultural land with less soil available by using less water, less pesticide and less fertiliser.

2. Food security: The issue of climate change is a big concern for ensuring food security.  According to the FAO, the global population will grow from 7 up to 9 Billion inhabitants by the year 2050. Consequently, a 70% increase in the food supply will be required to assure nutrition to all human beings. To give an example, market inquiry of crop will increase from actual 2 Billion tons per year up to 3 Billion tons. The EU must in future be able to contribute to world food demand by improving its agricultural production capacity and meeting the high safety, quality and welfare standards as well.

3. Territorial balance. Agriculture is still an important sector in the rural economy. Agriculture offers job possibilities and income to rural resistant and is generating additional economic activities like tourism and trade. 90% of European territory is rural area and half of the European population live in rural area. However, rural population is decreasing and is growing older as young people find better opportunities in cities. Furthermore there are still territorial imbalances existing between so called old and new Member states exist within the EU.


In order to meet the big challenges, politics is asked to react and to elaborate measures of purpose. The future agricultural policy has to maintain a policy of common European interest developing sustainable objectives for both, farmers and consumers. To reach a viable food production, the future agricultural policy has to stabilize incomes and markets as well as improve the competiveness of farms. A shift towards a developing growth path is needed in order to establish competitive and sustainable production of food, feed and biomass. To achieve this, the CAP must in future focus on efficiency and modernisation. Farmers need to be supported in their ambitions in order to encourage 'green growth' in rural areas. To my mind, the basis for innovation is education, training and the provision of information. Farmers and other economic actors in rural areas must be well trained and have easy access to know how.

To ensure further global agricultural production it is essential to address the major climate change challenges facing us today.  Applying sustainable agro ecological production methods will become a question of sustainability and of economy. Framework requirements should help agriculture to mitigate climate change through reduced GHG emissions and energy efficiency measures to increase production efficiency. It is important to improve a sustainable management of natural resources and climate action through enhancing sustainable production methods and encouraging green growth through innovation.

A balanced territorial development requires a decent support of rural areas. It is important to compensate for additional costs so as for production difficulties in areas with specific natural constraints. The support of rural employment and improvement of rural economy, promotion of diversification and encouraging structural diversity in farming systems are important tools for future. The establishment of regional agricultural systems has a potential in increasing overall food production.

Also external factors have an enormous impact. Forthcoming measures must prepare agriculture on increased oil dependence, increased dependence on imports and the access for all users to affordable energy. European agricultural policy must avoid vulnerability and dependency to these external factors. The EU attends to develop an ambitious energy policy that must also go along with a forward-looking and sustainable environmental policy. Farm and food sectors should play an active role in both, climate and energy policy. Within the Europe 2020 Agenda, agriculture and rural areas are called to step upon their efforts to meet ambitious climate and energy targets.

On the 12th of October, Commissioner Ciolos presented his proposals for the future of the CAP: His plans integrate environmental requirements into the common policy. He introduces a strong "greening component" into the first pillar of the CAP. With his proposals, Commissioner Ciolos reflected requirements that were brought forward by the public. For the first time, all European farmers should assure climate benefits as part of their daily work.

Commissioner Ciolos was taking into account ecological-based farming as priorities for agriculture within the CAP. I agree, that Agri-environment-climate payments should continue to play a prominent role in supporting the sustainable development of rural areas. The programs will further encourage farmers and other land managers to introduce agricultural practices contributing to climate change mitigation.

The EU is a big player in agricultural production and at the same time the largest importer of agricultural products.  Reflecting all upcoming forces, the EU is making great commitments in the field of sustainability. However, this European trend must also affect the global trend in order to work out for future generations. Further, every one of us has to be aware of the fact, that we as consumer decide which model of agriculture and food production we want. Every shopping we decide on sustainability or not - every one has the power.


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