The EU is among the most important guarantors of global food security. It can only maintain this position if the general framework remains suitable. Liam Condon, Member of the Board of Management of Bayer AG and President of the Crop Science Division, spoke with Pekka Pesonen, Secretary General of COPA-COGECA.
Liam Condon The European Union produces around 20 percent of the world’s wheat supply. The grain has become one of the world’s most important foodstuffs and supplies about one fifth of the global population’s caloric needs. Looking back over the past 20 years, global production only rose around one percent per year. Rising populations around the world, however, are increasing demand. Furthermore, eating habits in developing nations are changing, with the trend going towards food with higher protein content, as is already the case in developed countries. This is a big opportunity as well as a challenge for European farmers, who need to make a living, provide food, safeguard the environment and take into account consumers’ needs. We need sustainable solutions if European agriculture is to retain its position as the “world’s breadbasket” well into the future.
Pekka Pesonen Yes indeed. We are among the guarantors of global food security, which is a great responsibility. According to the European Commission, EU countries exported agricultural raw materials and products with a total value of E120 billion in 2013 alone. To meet global agricultural food needs in the future, we need to keep the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. When talking about specific measures, farmers need, among others, appropriate risk management systems (insurance schemes) together with a robust financial framework in order to reduce uncertainty due to adverse weather conditions. They also need effective early warning systems to be alerted of the spread of pests and diseases and mechanisms to compensate them for eradication of pests and diseases. On top of that farmers face in many cases the lack of effective plant protection alternatives which has an impact in terms of volume of production and lower yields. Recently, almost two third of active substances had to be phased out of the market due to new legislative requirements, when at the same time, changes to EU maximum residue level system have accelerated the decline in the number of active substances authorizations for the agricultural sector as a whole. In particular, the ban of alternative chemical active substances could also lead to increase disease and pest resistance problems. This in turn significantly jeopardizes harvests.
The EU Agricultural Organizations Copa-Cogeca is the united voice of farmers and their cooperatives which represent 26 million European farmers and their families and 38,000 agri-cooperatives. Copa-Cogeca’s mission is to defend the general interest of agriculture, to maintain and develop relations with EU-Institutions as well as with representative organizations at EU level and to find solutions that are in the common interest of both organizations.
Liam Condon That’s true. Crop protection products play a key role here, as agricultural yields would be 40 percent lower if no crop protection products were used. Farmers need a whole toolbox at hand to meet the challenges of the future. Investment in research and development is a key factor to help them succeed, when it comes to a sustainable increase in yields and the fight against the development of resistances. We are very active in developing locally adapted, stress-tolerant and high-yielding seed varieties and new biological and chemical crop protection solutions. But to invest in R&D we need a reliable regulatory framework. The time for a crop protection compound to reach the market from research is approximately 10 or 11 years – which means enormous costs that could reach more than E200 million. During the development phase, the products are tested under strict conditions with tests that are monitored by the authorities. The focus of these tests is not only on the active substance’s toxicological properties but also on avoiding substance residues in the environment and in foods after proper application. And, before a product is put on the market, European manufacturers (depending on the type of product) conduct numerous additional tests on its safe application.
Pekka Pesonen In addition, farmers need a single market for the placing of Plant Protection Products, without unnecessary market segmentations which distort competition and reduce availability for Minor Uses and Specialty Crops.
Europe must be able to fulfill its role as the world’s breadbasket well into the future.
Liam Condon What we need above all is a regular exchange and transfer of knowledge, among ourselves and with the public in general. In companies, government and society, decisions must be made based on proven scientific solutions that can fulfill societal needs. We at Bayer are convinced that this can only be achieved with a mutual exchange of information among all parties involved. This is how we can create an understanding of and openness towards new solutions and technologies. Honest and constructive dialogue is especially important to us here. Initiatives like the Crop Future Forums and our Farming’s Future Dialogues platform all contribute to this exchange and have already proven to be effective platforms for the transfer of knowledge. These and other similar initiatives also strengthen our partnerships and create new opportunities for collaboration.
Pekka Pesonen I agree with that. In order to increase recognition of the need of crop protection solutions, everyone – farmers, manufacturers, trade and consumer organizations – must work together based on a scientific, risk management approach. More collaboration and mutual understanding are needed in order to bring innovation into agriculture and onto the market. What’s at stake here is truly important – providing people with high-quality, healthy and affordable food. In return, farmers need reliable active tools for an effective crop protection. Exchanging specialized knowledge and information with the appropriate representatives from industry, distribution and consumers is of essential importance here. All parties involved must work together; it’s the only way we can drive agricultural technologies forward and retain Europe’s role as the world’s breadbasket.
In companies, government and society, decisions must be made based on proven scientific solutions that can fulfill societal needs.