REPORT: Climate-smart (sub)tropical food crops in the EU

REPORT: Climate-smart (sub)tropical food crops in the EU

EIP-AGRI (2021) EIP-AGRI Focus Group Climate-smart (sub)tropical food crops in the EU 48 pp.

The Focus Group was launched by the European Commission, DG AGRI in 2020 as part of the activities carried out under the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI). It brought together 20 experts from across the EU to share knowledge and practices around the main question. Experts were selected to combine different backgrounds (farmers, advisers, researchers and industry representatives).
This report discusses the main conclusions of the Focus Group, and identifies future actions to improve climate-smart (sub)tropical crops.
The Focus Group has identified a large number of climate-smart practices for (sub)tropical crops, both in ORs and continental Europe. Case studies were highlighted at different levels from the parcel up to the value chain and regional levels. Relevant options already exist for low-input cropping systems, including traditional systems in ORs that enhance diversity (multistrata systems, agroforestry, crop-livestock integration,…). 
Still, a lack of value chains to recognise the agro-ecological nature of these systems was underlined. The Focus Group insisted on the need to develop knowledge exchange between ORs and continental Europe, to share the existing good practices and support the development of new ones. The Focus Group has identified future actions to improve climate-smart (sub)tropical crops, either as innovative projects such as Operational Groups or as research needs from practice

State of play

  • The Focus Group considered options for climate-smart (sub)tropical agriculture in the outermost regions (ORs) of Europe and in continental Europe where (sub)tropical crops are produced.
  • The European Union (EU) counts nine ORs, which are geographically very distant from the European mainland but which are an integral part of the EU. These are French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion Island and Saint-Martin (France), Azores and Madeira (Portugal), and the Canary Islands (Spain).
  • Agriculture in the outermost regions (ORs) of the EU is mostly oriented toward exports of products such as sugar cane and banana. These are produced as monocultures, which are more sensitive to pests, diseases and threats posed by climate change. 
  • Such monocultures are largely reliant onimported, highly subsidised inputs
  • At the same time, these ORs are generally very dependent on imported food, especially on livestock products and processed food such as milled products and beverages
  • Their agricultural trade balance shows a large deficit, as most of these regions import more than they export and face big market competition with neighbouring countries (such as Suriname and Brazil for French Guyana).
  • The report discusses farming practices that increase the sustainability and resilience of farming systems that can help to make (sub)tropical cropping systems in the outermost regions of the EU and in continental Europe economically viable and more resilient to their environment, including climate change and market fluctuations. 

Good practices and innovations for climate-smart (sub)tropical crops

  • Reducing the use of inputs by improving farm autonomy (in fertilisation, animal feed,…) thus reducing production costs and improving farmers’ income, 
  • Diversifying options to enhance crop protection through integrated pest and disease management (biotic and abiotic), 
  • Enhancing soil fertility and health, global biodiversity, limiting use of water in dry areas, or enhancing closed water loops, 
  • Developing innovative value chains for the products of multifunctional agriculture, 
  • Improving local food self-sufficiency through diversification of production (livestock, vegetables,…) 
Recent reviews have highlighted three relevant levers for climate-smart agricultural practices in tropical areas: i) limiting N2O, CH4 and CO2 emissions, ii) storing more carbon in soils, and iii) developing green energy production, through methanisation or agrifuels. Such climate-smart solutions for (sub)tropical crops already exist both in the EU’s ORs and in continental EU. All these agro-ecological options are leading to a satisfying compromise between food production, and adaptation and mitigation to climate change, thanks to new biological regulations that have emerged in such low-chemical input and diversified cropping systems.

System design approach 

The practices considered should not be seen as individual or isolated practices, but as part of a system design approach that considers all diversification options that could be relevant at different levels. Five main levels of analysis are considered: 
  1. the plant level, including breeding resistant varieties and/or using local varieties that are better adapted to pest and climate change, – Examples: 
    +BDMIRA: A project to improve sweet potato varieties in Portugal 
    CASBio: A project on local multiple-purpose crops adapted to soil and climate in Madeira
  2. the cropping system level, considering the diversification of cropping systems, including conservation agriculture or agroforestry practices, – Examples: 
    Villandia Farm in French Guiana: a diversity of crop-tree associations at parcel level 
    Silvo-arable farms with orange trees and vegetables in Crete, Greece
    In the Azores and Madeira, using traps and attractants to manage pests in banana production
  3. the farm level, considering the integration of livestock into the system, – Examples: 
    Traditional crop-livestock integration systems to recycle by-products in Guadeloupe and the Azores
    Mahorais gardens: a traditional multistrata cropping system in Mayotte
    Traditional agro-systems in the biosphere reserves of Madeira
  4. the landscape level, considering knowledge exchange and the integration of farming practices in the territory, which implies for instance collaboration between neighbouring farmers to promote local autonomy in animal feed and fertilisation, etc. – Examples: 
    VALAB: A multilevel Operational Group to improve vanilla production in Guadeloupe
    Livestock and crop farmers collaborating in a local circular economy Project “Agricultura es mucho más” – “Agriculture is much more” in the Canary Islands
  5. the value chain level, considering the benefits of multifunctional and diversified systems beyond the farm level and market diversification options. – Examples: 
    L’ilôt Paradis” – Sandrine Baud’s farm in Reunion Island
    Agro-ecological farming in Guadeloupe 
    Valuing the production of the traditional Azores pineapple
  6. the value chain level / processing
    “Bananeraie Bio de Bourbon”: processing local production for direct sales – Reunion island
    Processing local food from the traditional autonomous Fazendas Madeiras
  7. Knowledge exchange 
    Projects such as CASBio, AHIDAGRO, FRUITMAC and VERCOCHAR helped to develop the knowledge related to agricultural sustainability, agro-systems and crops adaptation to climate change.
    Promoting the agro-ecological transition in the French overseas departments and territories 

List of research projects and initiatives

PEI Banane Martinique For a sustainable and ecologically intensive banana production in Martinique
VALAB Integrated Ecosystemic value enhancement of the Guadeloupe Forest Agrobiodiversity
ITICan Innovative Technical Cultivation in Sugar Cane: Installation of Intercrop Service Plants (Fallow)
BiofermManagement of conservatory of biomasses, nutrients and soil fertility in small famlily farms in OG Mayotte island and the transfer of information

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