FOOD SECURITY: Back at the top of the European political agenda

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Like peace, food security has long been taken for granted in Europe.

The violence of the war on the borders of Europe has exploded along with the awareness that we have to worry about the supply of raw materials: energy and agriculture commodities.

So, food security has once again entered our political agenda and our concerns.

Public opinion has learned that the yellow of the Ukrainian flag stands for the significant production of cereals and that European countries (especially Germany and Italy) are largely dependent on Russian gas imports. Indeed, Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly one-third of global wheat exports, 19% of exported corn, and 80% of sunflower oil exports.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), world food commodity prices increased 20.7% in February 2022, compared February 2021, bringing them to an all-time high. The increase for grains was 14.8% above the level of a year ago. February saw increases for all major grains, largely reflecting renewed uncertainties in global supply due to the war in Ukraine. These increases are linked not only to production levels, but also to instability and supply issues in the energy, fertilizer and feed sectors.

All of these factors tend to compress the profit margins of food producers. Indeed, so far the increase in the cost of raw materials and energy has been absorbed only by producers.

The crisis unfolding before our eyes affects:

– the most vulnerable consumers and those with modest incomes in the European Union, but also the fragile populations of Mediterranean and African countries whose ability to cope with these price increases and ensure sufficient supply is limited; we have already seen how rising prices led to riots and political instability in southern Mediterranean countries in 2006/2007;

farmers, whose rising prices of inputs are putting them in a very difficult situation that could lead to a drop in production and abandonment of the countryside, all this when the challenge for the European Union is to increase its food security and meet the demand of its traditional trading partners and neighbours, cushioning the shock of the halt in Ukrainian exports.

Therefore, the EU must take immediate action and engage without delay to ensure the EU’s short- and medium-term food security and contribute to that of our neighbors.

Without delay, the EU must:

1) Mobilize the 479 million € of the CAP crisis reserve, but also commit to increase it in 2022 to the extent necessary outside the CAP budget and to replenish it in 2023 also outside the CAP budget. In a situation of widespread crisis, it makes no sense to take money from farmers by reducing their CAP direct aid and return it in crisis aid through the reserve;

2) Establish cash aid for farms to purchase fertilizer and feed for livestock;

3) Strengthen European protein production as the Commission, European Parliament and Council have already called for; notably by temporary lifting set-aside requirements;

4) Define specific crisis measures for each sector to be activated in case of need, both to cope with crises linked to the closure of certain markets and decreases in consumption resulting from price increases of all necessary household expenses (food, transport, heating);

5) Conduct detailed follow-up – at least monthly – for all sectors with detailed analysis of production, exports, imports and stocks. This exercise of absolute transparency is necessary to avoid the risks of overheating linked to pure speculation.

6) It is also necessary to give the Commission, without delay, the means to ensure a permanent market balance between European supply and exports to be achieved.

Beyond these measures to be taken in the very short term, it is the responsibility of European decision-makers to anchor Europe in a renewed food security.

This enhanced food security is not antithetical to the European Green Deal and the ultimate goals of the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F). The green transition is necessary. It is not a question of calling it into question. It is not responsible to try to erase it in one fell swoop, nor is it responsible to fear an anti-Green Deal conspiracy to dodge questions that remain unanswered from the outset about the Commission’s proposed modus operandi and its unrealistic points.

F2F and Green Deal more broadly cannot be degrowth strategies as proposed by the Commission. The resulting additional costs are bearable neither for the poorest Europeans nor even for the middle socio-economic classes. The Commission proposes elitist means of action, first as an exclusive cornerstone for the wealthy socio-economic classes, and then leaving the poorest Europeans behind. The suggested Solidarity Fund does not respond to the magnitude of the problem.

The Commission urgently needs to revise its copy and propose means to achieve the Green Deal and F2F that combine economic and environmental performance, and move away from the dogmatic path of degrowth.

This idea is realistic and feasible. It implies a major and immediate effort to invest in existing innovative technologies.

For agriculture, this means an immediate massive investment plan of €15 billion in precision farming and digital agriculture, funded outside the CAP to the tune of €7 billion. As a consequence of such investments, immediate benefits can be expected: reduction of fertilizer consumption by at least 15% on average, substantial reduction in the use of phytosanitary products, while maintaining or even improving the level of European production.