European agro-sector through modern challenges

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Recent global energy calamities and climate change atrocities posed significant threat to agricultural sector world-wide and in the EU states as well. Hence, national governance has to support the farmers’ adaptive capacity, as well as address food price volatility and food security. Ensuring agro-sectors’ sustainability and resilience facing evolving environmental challenges is among the major priorities in almost all states.

   Most governments in the world are heavily subsidizing agriculture; thus during 2020-22 about $ 851 billion were used in 54 countries, which more than doubled since the beginning of the century; still urgent reorientation of funds and subsidies is needed towards emerging challenges and climate modifications.
Major funding regions in the world are in China (36 percent), India with 15 percent, the US with 14 and the EU with 13 percent.
Main global agro-challenges are not drastically different from that of the EU: i.e. providing nutritious and safe food, secure farmers’ livelihood and food values chains, as well as increasing sector’s environmental sustainability with reduced harmful emissions.
In order to phase-out climate-harmful payments, decoupling support and adopting sustainable practices (while preserving sustainable livelihoods and ensuring food security) it is needed to re-orient supporting mechanisms in the EU-wide agro-policy.

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EU-wide support for agro-sector
Through the recent pandemic, energy crisis and high inflation both agricultural inputs and food in the EU demonstrated remarkable resilience. In fact, the EU agro-food exports increased by 16% in 2022; besides the EU-27 states are almost completely self-sufficient on a wide-range of essential foods: from wheat and tomatoes to meat and dairy, contributing to the EU-wide strategic food resilience. Thus in 2023 alone, the EU has provided exceptional support of about €500 million to farmers most affected by crises.
According to the Commission, due to the EU funding, the number of broadband internet connections in rural areas has tripled; the 5G networks will soon also be available in most rural areas. This opens up completely new possibilities for the use of drones or autonomous machines in monitoring agro-sector’s productivity.
Beside, approval of new genomic processes can lead to more resistant plant varieties and less use of pesticides.
During spring of next year, the Commission will put forward an initiative on EU biotech and bio-manufacturing, as the new type of agro-industrial sector is in the midst of the global technology race.
However, a wide range of challenges do exist: farmers operate in a very competitive global market, which makes them often the most vulnerable part of the value chain. Then, farmers in the EU find it increasingly difficult to pass on their farms to the next generation: thus, large and small farmers worry every day about crop failures, animal disease outbreaks, or price shocks for fuel and fertilizers.

Path forward
The EU has adopted a five-year support system in the form of the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP which is the most ambitious CAP from an environmental and climate perspective. Suffice it to say that the present CAP is “underpinned” by over €300 billion funding from the EU-wide budget, almost the biggest share of support compared to other development sectors.
However, so-called nature-based solutions represent the other half of the next EU-wide “agricultural revolution”.

  In December 2021, the agreement on reform of the common agricultural policy, CAP was formally adopted. The new legislation, which entered into force on 1 January 2023, paves the way for a fairer, greener and more performance-based CAP. It seeks to ensure a sustainable future for European farmers, provide more targeted support to smaller farms, and allow greater flexibility for EU countries to adapt measures to local conditions. Agriculture and rural areas are central to the European Green Deal; the CAP 2023-27 will be a key tool in reaching the ambitions of the Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies.
During 2024, each EU country will present an annual performance report and hold an annual review meeting with the Commission.

   Seeing from the CAP Strategic Plans, the EU member states and the farming communities are living up to their climate and nature-related objectives. Thus, farmers are applying modern methods to promote biodiversity and store carbon from the atmosphere.
Besides, they improve soil management and increase water resilience. Farmers know nature better than anyone else; thanks to the CAP they are already doing a lot to preserve it, confirmed the Commission President recently.

The EU will continue to support the agro-sector’ community in all possible ways: together with the member states farmers’ organisations the EU is “planting the seeds” for even more EU-wide sustainable and resilient food production. Above all, the states and the EU institutions have to find a new consensus on the future of agriculture and perspective food system.
Now is the time to combine the efforts of all: i.e. farmers and food entrepreneurs, scientists and technologists, retailers and consumers, environmental organizations and animal rights groups. With this in mind, the Commission will announce a Strategic Dialogue in January 2024 to invite a group of stakeholders, building on the extraordinary diversity of the agro-sector and including small traditional producers of organic food to the large wheat producers, as well as those who are making food to those who are processing it and/or bringing it on the market.

Critical questions
However, the Commission President posed some questions for discussion:
= How to give the Union’s farmers and the rural communities a better perspective, including a fair standard of living?
= How to support agriculture within the boundaries of the planet and its ecosystem?
= How to make better use of the immense opportunities offered by knowledge and technological innovation to progressive agro-sector?
= How to promote a thriving future for Europe’s food system in a competitive world?

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