The Sustainable Intensification of European Agriculture

The Sustainable Intensification of European Agriculture

This report has been undertaken on the initiative of the Public Utility Foundation for Rural Investment Support for Europe (RISE)
June 2014. 98 pages.

24 June 2014.  Rise Foundation Brussels. The report was launched  (Brussels, Tuesday, 24 June, 2014 – 13:15 – 14:30) at the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) by Professor Jo Swinnen, former EU Agricultural Commissioner and RISE CEO Dr. Franz Fischler and project coordinator Professor Allan Buckwell of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).

“The report makes clear that the next increase in global food output must come from continued intensification of existing agricultural land, and that this must be accompanied by a steep reduction in the negative environmental consequences of agriculture”, commented Professor Buckwell. “The last round of negotiations failed to produce meaningful green reform of the CAP, which is why this report is written with the 2017 mid-term review in mind”.
“This report represents the first systematic look at the policies needed to prepare European agriculture for the challenges of the 21st century. It represents a tremendous contribution to future rounds of CAP reform”, said Dr. Franz Fischler.

The concept of Sustainable Intensification (SI) is used in the context of feeding a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The RISE report comprises the first analysis of SI in a European context, and argues it must be the paradigm within which future agricultural policy is made in the EU.

The report makes three key points:

  1. The agricultural input which needs to be intensified across all of Europe is knowledge per hectare. This means knowledge in managing delicate ecosystems, knowledge to ensure that pollinator populations thrive, knowledge to make water management minimise flooding, as well as knowledge to achieve more food output per hectare. 
  2. The EU needs to devise a measurement tool for environmental farming performance. It would be strongly preferable to build on an EU-wide set of indicators already developed, for example the Joint Research Centre’s IRENA indicators. 
  3. In addition to better enforcement of existing environmental regulations, and using policy measures under the CAP, changes in farming practices must also come from farmers and private actors themselves. Many companies up- and downstream already operate sustainability schemes, some of which are reviewed in the report. These should be strengthened and broadened, with more efforts to monitor and demonstrate their impact.
page 24: 
There are four main aspects to the EU’s external agricultural footprint:
  1. the first is the sheer agricultural land area used outside of the continent: “the currently occupied land in third countries (34.9 million hectares) is almost equivalent to the entire territory of Germany”. About 72% of Europe’s demand for protein feed crops is met by imports, mainly soy from Brazil, Argentina and the USA. To produce this, an area of 20 million hectares of land outside of Europe is needed, an equivalent to 10% of Europe’s own arable land. The remaining 28% of protein feed crops is produced in Europe, and occupies only 3% of Europe’s arable land.
  2. Second, the external agricultural footprint can be expressed in water terms. The EU is a net water importer: “40% of the water used to produce food for the EU is used outside its territory”.
  3. Third, the external land use footprint has consequences for biodiversity in the areas where land is converted from natural habitat to farmland. However, methods for assessing the costs of these impacts in terms of biodiversity are currently not well advanced: “it is impossible, to date, to arrive at a full picture of where indirect land use change (iLUC) has happened already and how much area has been affected, where it will happen in the future, and what its implications for biodiversity are”
  4. Fourth, land use change has consequences for global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as forests are converted into pastures or used to grow crops, a process which switches land from being in equilibrium or a net sink, to being a significant CO2 source. This, too, is an unresolved question: “the lack of data and understanding (epistemic uncertainty) prevents convergence of judgment on a central value for iLUC emissions”.

It is far more important to know the biodiversity, soil, GHG (global greenhouse gas) and cultural landscape ‘footprints’ of EU imports than their land and water effects.

Published on 14 Apr 2014
Franz Fischler, former EU Commissioner for Agriculture and currently chairman of the RISE Foundation, explains his view on “sustainable intensification” in agriculture and on the recently approved CAP reform. Filmed by Angelo Di Mambro at the Forum for Agriculture held in Brussels, 1 April 2014. Subtitles in Italian are available.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact us
If you are interested or have any questions, send us a message.
I am very interested
Send Message