At a high-level seminar held in Brussels yesterday, policy makers and participants heard from the European Commissioner for Research and Innovation, Máire Geoghegan Quinn and food experts from the FAO, China, Israel and Ireland that research and innovation would play a critical role in averting a food security crisis in European and global agriculture.
The underlying message was that global food production needs to be increased by at least 60% by 2050 to feed the projected 9 billion population.
Organised in association with the Irish Presidency and hosted by Liam Aylward MEP for Ireland East and Makhteshim Agan, this seminar brought together agricultural experts, policy makers and world leaders in agricultural innovation to discuss the collaborative and innovative solutions necessary to increase productivity and food output against a background of unparalleled resource and environmental pressures.
Key messages which participants took away were that there will be 75 million extra mouths to feed each year from the same area of land; European agriculture productivity has remained relatively static over the last 20 years with a diminishing market share of world output; other regions of the world, particularly those which have embraced innovation, are having a greater influence on the global food market due to increasing output and stronger competitive position; EU food production is projected to increase by a significantly lower amount than its competitors over the next decade; and lastly that the regulatory framework governing innovation and new technologies must keep pace with developments.
Highlighting the need for more innovative thinking and practice in agriculture, seminar host and Member of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Liam Aylward MEP (ALDE, IE) commented that:
“The rising world population allied with rapid economic growth across the developing world and emerging new markets is substantially increasing the demand for basic food supplies and animal feed. With only a very limited increase in the amount of land available, most of the additional food output will have to come from increased agricultural productivity on existing farms across the globe. The key challenge for the future is not only to produce more but to do it in a sustainable manner with limited resources.”
Paolo De Castro, (S&D IT) stated that the importance of developing a strong and competitive EU agriculture was a core issue in the current CAP Reform negotiations. As Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development he would be working to ensure that the policy framework and incentives for producers to increase food output in an environmentally sustainable manner would be at the forefront. Mr de Castro also mentioned that he was pleased that the European Innovation Partnerships for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability was gaining widespread support in the negotiations. “These EIP measures will act as catalysts for the more rapid technology transfer of innovative actions from the research institutions to the farm.”
Albert Dess MEP (EPP, DE) emphasized that “in an era when farmers continue to be faced with greater market volatility and have to address major production challenges, the need for innovative solutions and technologies is paramount, which includes agricultural pests and diseases management.”
Jim Nicholson MEP (ECR, NI) also agreed that “optimising agronomic practices and developing innovative production systems would be key factors in meeting future food security needs and that it is critical that the regulatory framework governing these new technologies keeps pace with their development.”
Opening the seminar, Commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn stated that substantial funding would be provided under the Horizon 2020 programme for innovative solutions in sustainable agriculture and food production. “Horizon 2020 is a flagship initiative aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness across all sectors: a competitive agriculture and food sector will be critical in not just underpinning EU food security needs but also contributing to world food supplies for an expanding world population”
Erez Vigodman, CEO of Makhteshim Agan, pointed out that “globally, agriculture is more important than ever, demanding a transformation in the approach to innovation that addresses areas that go beyond seed improvement. This change is critical in order to boost yield and productivity of agricultural crops, reversing a trend we have been witnessing during the last fifty years. At the same time, a strong focus should be directed at targeting the reduction of food waste and increase of arable land, especially by improving the efficiency of water use. Israel represents a case study where innovation is manifested in many arenas, for example, 85% of wastewater is recycled to use in areas such as irrigation.”
In closing the seminar Professor Jimmy Burke from University College Dublin said that: “meeting the food demands of an expanding world population is a daunting challenge for farmers and the food industry globally. We will have to use all the tools at our disposal on a scale never seen before, if we want to increase crop yields to feed the 75 million extra people that will be on our planet each year. Therefore, we must pursue productivity growth with a new passion.”