The 4th SCAR Foresight Conference: Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Bioeconomy – A Challenge for Europe’
Farm Europe attended the 4th SCAR Foresight Conference at the European Commission on 8 October 2015.
The conference, titled ‘Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Bioeconomy – A Challenge for Europe’, brought together experts and sectoral representatives to discuss the principles which would enable the primary production sectors – agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture – to confront the growing challenges of climate change, food security, and sustainability.
Speakers included Fernand Etgen, Luxembourgish Minister of Agriculture, Viticulture and Consumer Protection, John Bell, from DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, Ken Ash, Director of Trade and Agriculture at the OECD, and the experts responsible for the production of the SCAR report around which the conference was structured.
The nature of the event called for questions to be raised and discussed, rather than for conclusions to be reached. The perspectives offered were nonetheless enlightening, and the lively debate offered much food for thought. Although common agreement was not the primary aim of the conference, a number of issues were repeatedly emphasised by various speakers, some relating to Research and Investment in the agricultural sector, and others reflecting on the broader nature of European agricultural policy:
- The urgency of the issues at stake: regardless of the scale of the challenge, ensuring food security and respecting the demands of climate change are urgent problems requiring immediate solutions.
- The global nature of these issues: the role of international politics, with such agendas as the New York Sustainable Development Agenda and the upcoming COP 2015 meeting in Paris. The resulting implications of the effectiveness of European policy-making in this area were also raised.
- The need for cooperation among stakeholders: joint priority-setting processes lead to more lasting solutions.
- The need for multiple views, and for the broadening of the debate. This refers to the importance of both public and private sector involvement – including the consultation of civil society and consumers – in agricultural research agenda-setting. The involvement of practitioners can reduce the risk of policy failure, and this holds true for the education of practitioners in new technologies.
- The need for waste reduction, regardless of the eventual importance of biomass to the future of European agriculture, and the related question of the role of consumer behaviour.
- The notion of food systems, rather than ‘food security’, inviting a more holistic approach to the challenges to global food and agriculture and focusing on the potential opportunities for innovation, trade, health, job creation, wealth generation… offered by food security.
- Above all, an overarching theme was the requirement of policy coherence in terms of agricultural policy. This was raised in various contexts – between member state and EU level; in terms of priority-setting; and ultimately in relation to the coherence between different EU policies, such as environment, climate, and development. A primary reason given for this was the need to reduce uncertainty in the sector in order to encourage investment. A related issue was the EU’s obligation to take leadership on the issue of the bioeconomy, and securing European policy coherence was raised as a measure for assuring a strong global role for the European Union on the issue of the future of the agri-food sector.
The closing panel discussion provoked a lively discussion regarding the feasibility of the ‘bioeconomy’ concept, and participants highlighted both the potential for biomass to offer far-reaching solutions to the issue of sustainability and the remaining question marks – including the implications for land use and resource exploitation – which are still to be fully addressed.
Read more about the SCAR process and access the 4th SCAR Foresight Exercise at https://ec.europa.eu/research/scar/index.cfm?pg=foresight4th.