2024 Annual Conference summary – Introduction and session 1

Restoring the opportunity for food system transformation

Friday, Mar 29, 2024

Janez Potočnik, Chair ForumforAg 2024 and Chairman RISE Foundation, welcomed participants in person and on-line to the 2024 Annual Conference with its overarching theme of ‘Restoring the opportunity for food system transformation’.

He noted that the Forum’s 16th annual conference coincided with a large demonstration in Brussels by farmers fearful for their future. “We should listen to them,” he said, supporting their calls for decent lives and incomes. He pointed out that the food system lags behind sectors such as mobility, energy and housing in tackling climate change and farmers and environmentalists must “work hand in hand”.

The challenge ahead is to move from an economic system based on unlimited growth to one “both ecologically sustainable and socially just”. This transition must involve all stages in the food chain and is a moral imperative for the sake of nature and future generations.

Agriculture and food security high on political agenda

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, speaking by video link confirmed “agriculture and food security are very high on our political agenda, and rightly so”. She pointed to the measures the Commission is taking to reduce the administrative burden on farmers and to help the agri-food sector make the necessary transition.

These are being accompanied by moves to create “a new consensus on the future of agriculture” to replace the current polarisation. All parties involved in the sector are currently participating in a wide-ranging strategic dialogue. Its outcome will shape the work of the next Commission.

Session 1: Where do we go from here?

In the opening speech, Saswati Bora, Global Director, Regenerative Food Systems, The Nature Conservancy, welcomed the UN COP 28ʾs landmark declaration last December on food systems transformation, now signed by over 150 countries. It is a strong signal that transformation is essential “if we want to tackle climate change and nature loss, both food security and livelihoods”.

She highlighted three key outcomes: nature positive productivity growth, greater resilience to climate change and food price shocks, and regeneration of natural capital. Regenerative transitions take time. Farmers are central to the process. They require the right incentives and financial and technological support from governments and the private sector for a healthier environment to lead to long-term productivity growth.

Ms Bora looked to “a flurry of action turning into meaningful progress towards our science-based targets” from the day’s proceedings.

Lee Ann Jackson, Head of the Agro-food Trade and Market Division, OECD, explained how the organisation works “to produce the data and evidence that’s going to generate knowledge which can lead to effective action”. That factual information needs to be shared with the public, business and governments to ensure all are fully involved.

To encourage the transition, she called for “a coherent policy package” and more effort into knowledge, innovation and training for farmers, “rather than policies that are locking in certain behaviours”.

Nicola Pochettino, Director for Environmental and Natural Resources, European Investment Bank, explained that agriculture and bioeconomy are now among its priorities. At least €5 billion of the €90 billion the bank lends annually go to agriculture. Via national banks, the loans, with low interest rates, reach individual farmers.

He agreed with the need to pay farmers for providing ecosystem services and confirmed the EIB “would be happy to work with governmental entities” to support those payments.

Máximo Torero, Chief Economist, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) summarised its thinking on the agri-food system as “good food for all for today and tomorrow”. Climate financing is key to achieving that objective. Only 3% of that finance go to agri-food systems, despite the potentially enormous efficiencies transformation would bring. He emphasised the importance of including transformation of the agri-food system in climate negotiations and for pressure on future COPs to deliver tangible progress.

Interventions from the floor raised issues on how to give value to nature, establish carbon pricing in agriculture and encourage innovation to flourish.

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

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