2024 Annual Conference summary – Call to Action progress

Call to Action progress report

Wednesday, Apr 03, 2024

Mark Titterington, Co-Founder & Director, Forum for the Future of Agriculture, opened the discussion by explaining the rationale for the launch of the ‘Call to Action’ in March 2023. It is designed to increase the Forum’s influence in two parallel policy debates: creating a sustainable food and agriculture system in the medium to long-term and, more immediately, helping farmers financially. He explained that the Forum had identified seven themes which, working closely with its partners, it believes “might help to deliver that transition in the food system that not only takes care of climate, the environment and biodiversity, but helps to grow farm incomes”.

During the initiative’s first year, the Forum focused on developing and scaling regenerative agriculture. It examined the alignment of public and private incentives, revenue streams for farmers, and sustainability and transparency in the supply chain. With the first progress report expected within some six weeks of the Annual Conference, Mark indicated the coming year’s work was likely to focus on a systemic approach to funding and financing the transition and considering how to value natural capital. Despite the daunting challenges, he concluded: “It’s never been a more exciting time to work in food and agriculture.”

Response from the Forum partners

Petra Laux, Chief Sustainability Officer & Head Sustainability and Corporate Affairs, Syngenta, described her company’s work in devising ways to produce evidence to measure biodiversity. This has created a 24/7 monitoring system that records all flying objects from insects to birds. It also collaborates with a network of scientists to examine the impact of biodiversity measures so farmers can be advised “on this nexus between biodiversity and productivity”. Petra explained that the trick is to find “the sweet spot” where the evidence and technology work for the farmer, the innovator and sustainable, nutritious food.

Jurgen Tack, Secretary General, European Landowners’ Organization, cited the efforts being invested into its European Network for Private Land Conservation. This encourages private landowners to reach biodiversity goals on their properties. Linked to that is its Wildlife Estates Label building recognition and raising standards among small-scale conservation efforts. “We have a serious increase in the last year of private landowners showing an interest in being actively involved in biodiversity conservation.”

Boris Erg, Director, Director, IUCN European Regional Office, explained the organisation fosters understanding and provides guidance on the relationship between “food systems, food production, agriculture and biodiversity”. He criticised the practice of developing individual policies in isolation and then seeking synergies with other areas. All factors had to be present in the very first draft. “It has to be together and then to build it together. That is the only way.”

Emanuele Paolo Sicuro, Government Relations Director, Cargill, emphasised the importance of partnership within the Call to Action. The company is expanding its regenerative agriculture programme, Region Connects, in Europe. “This is a farmer led, market based voluntary programme”. It aims to connect farmers with environmental markets and to pay them for the ecosystem services they deliver.

Farming response

Concluding the session, Bram Van Hecke, a young Flemish farmer and advisor to Flanders Agriculture Minister, Jo Brouns, responded to the panel’s comments. The direction of travel needed is clear, he said, but what is missing is a coordinated strategy from governments towards the transition destination. His main criticism of the Call to Action “is that it is not able to make sure that call goes to governments to make farming and nature go together”.

He called for EU policy makers to put “dots on the horizon”, as they had done with the European Green Deal, to other areas such as the environment, biodiversity and the farming community where only 10% are under 40 years of age. Those dots must be accompanied by guidance and the necessary tools, particularly for farmers and landowners, and changes to current market systems.

While accepting the need for inspections to ensure rules are followed, he believed the administrative pendulum had swung too far. “We slipped towards somewhere now where we have too many rules and not enough trust in the people that can really do it.”

Further information on the speakers plus videos of this session can be viewed on the event page.

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