A system-based approach for the long term

Czech Regional Event opening session summary

Friday, Jun 10, 2022

On Wednesday, May 18, the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague hosted the latest edition of the ForumforAg Regional conference. More than 200 participants joined us in the auditorium for a truly international event marking the crossover from the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union to the upcoming Czech Presidency in July. Throughout the day, sessions discussed biodiversity, environmental targets, climate mitigation, food system transformation and forestry.

Czech intro session

Delegates were welcomed by Professor Josef Soukup, CSc, Dean of the faculty, Faculty of Agrobiology, Food and Natural Resources, at the university. Introducing the university and its faculties in the areas of agriculture, life sciences, and the economy, he said fields of study that relate to the development of agriculture attract many students.

Joining him, Constantin Kinský, Vice President and Member of the Board of the Private Forests Chamber in the Czech Republic (SVOL) and European delegate, European Landowners’ Organization (ELO), welcomed the ForumforAg debates as a way to provide continuity. He introduced the ELO and outlined its definition of sustainability, which relates to three areas: ecological sustainability, economic response to sustainability, and socio-political sustainability.

Mr Kinský handed over to Janez Potočnik, Chair of ForumforAg 2022 and Chairman of the RISE Foundation and Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), to give the opening address. Now is not the time to retreat from the EU Green Deal, Mr Potočnik argued, but to invest further in soil health, biodiversity and new agtech to achieve food security. With the war in Ukraine and worldwide fear of a global food and energy crisis, action clearly needs to be taken to prevent potential terrible hunger. But we still need to act for the long term. “Solving the current conflict-related crisis should not, and cannot, compromise our ability to tackle the triple planetary crises of climate emergency, biodiversity loss and pollution,” Mr Potočnik said.

Czech intro session

COVID and Ukraine have only accelerated the need to transition our food system to one that is robust and sustainable, restores biodiversity, reduces emissions, sequesters carbon, and provides affordable, nutritious food for us all.
Multiple approach is needed. Mr Potočnik listed a number of key points to achieve food security – on livestock, marine production systems, “amazing” agricultural technologies, pollinators, soils, and food waste. Food security is also about policies not directly related to food and the future of forests.

“This multiple approach may seem a long way from the economic counter-offensive – the single, swift response – that political and media logic demands. But it is less strange to those working to hold back the underlying planetary crisis. Here, the cumulative effect of many positive, system-changing decisions is almost the only thing keeping a stable and safe world within reach.”
He said we must link resource use to fundamental human needs and optimize the systems that deliver them. “Nature is a large eco-system getting bankrupt due to our behaviour.” Climate crisis efforts are driven by the supply side, yet demand-side mitigation could reduce global GHGs in some sectors by up to 70% by 2050, he continued. He highlighted differing policy signals and market signals creating confusion.

Concluding, he said: “Focusing only on cleaning the current production systems will unfortunately not be enough. We must enter the untapped territories of the needed deep system transformation. If we want to avoid extinction of elephants in nature, we need to extinct elephants in the rooms.”

Read Mr Potočnik’s remarks in full for further information.

Biodiversity framework to maintain agriculture production
In the second part of the welcome session, Ladislav Miko, Deputy Director-General for the Food Chain, Health and Food Safety Department (DG SANTE), European Commission and special advisor to Czech Minister of Environment, and Lukas Visek, Member of the Cabinet of Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, discussed ways to restore biodiversity above and below ground.
Mr Miko emphasized that “we can’t go on with business as usual for one single day”. Maintaining biodiversity is no longer enough, it is vital to restore it. He highlighted two key elements: the health and fertility of soils, and the structure and functions of agriculturally managed land.

On soil, Mr Miko said that “the loss of organic matter and the destruction of the structure of soils leads to a dramatic loss in soil biodiversity and the subsequent layers of biodiversity above ground. There is only one solution to it. We need to try to find ways to return the organic matter”. Soil is the biggest reservoir of carbon, yet instead of capturing it, soil has started to produce carbon. Our minor scale of action has no chance of restoring biodiversity for all farmlands. Many protective measures need to be put in place, such as support for pollinators and agricultural methods.

The food chain as a whole
Mr Visek made the point that “we can no longer compartmentalize the food chain”, reminding guests that it is two years since the EU launched far-reaching initiatives to make the food system sustainable and support the Green Deal. “We need to consider the food chain as a whole, and everybody has a role to play.” He said that land and sea-based food systems are one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss, yet they also run the biggest risk of biodiversity collapses. The European Commission will adopt new pesticide legislation in June which will “help us bring more nature into farming, and it will also stimulate innovation, as we will need to replace chemical pesticides with alternatives, with knowledge, with technology”. The ambition is to reduce the use and the risk of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030.

But the EU food system still leads too many consumers to unhealthy food choices with negative effects on health and quality of life, and a substantial cost to society, Mr Visek said. In the EU, 20% of food is wasted: “Just think about the impact it has, not just on climate change, but also on the biodiversity loss, because we need to use pesticides to produce this food.” Forthcoming legislation – to help reduce food waste, to set targets on nature restoration, and the long-awaited soil health law – should help. He echoed the risk of the war in Ukraine driving a global food crisis. There would be no shortage of food in the EU, but “we need to reduce the dependency of the EU food system on import inputs such as fossil fuels, fertilizers, feed and raw materials”.

Watch the recording of the full discussion for further information.

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