2023 Annual Conference summary – Introduction and opening dialogue session

Fixing tomorrow, today

Friday, Apr 07, 2023

Fixing tomorrow, today

Janez Potočnik, Chair ForumforAg 2023 and Chairman RISE Foundation, welcomed participants to the 2023 Annual Conference with its overarching theme of ‘Fixing tomorrow, today’. He identified the central challenge: “How do we meet human needs and maximise our wellbeing in the most energy and resource efficient way?”

The answer lies in a real system change. This involves moving from the current emphasis on economic growth and GDP to an economy acknowledging humans are not superior to nature, but embedded with it. Extraction-based production must be replaced with one that is circular creation-based. Leadership and governance require a paradigm shift to improve collective resilience.

Mr Potočnik outlined the significant expansion in the Forum’s partnerships and international collaboration and presented its new ‘Call to Action’. This sets out seven key commitments, ranging from support for regenerative agriculture to integrating sustainability into supply chains and the global agri-food system. These will be used to monitor collective progress and drive change.

He concluded by warning: “The future will be green, or there will be no future for us at all.”

Can we afford not to pay the price of change in today’s geo-political and economic reality?

In his keynote speech, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President, European Commission emphasised the transition to sustainability was imperative, not to save the planet, but to save humanity, which “is our collective responsibility”.

He pinpointed four key tasks: reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food production and consumption; halt biodiversity loss where one million species are at risk of extinction;  inform consumers to make better food choices; and reduce food waste.

The pandemic with the development of revolutionary vaccines based on totally new science showed what can be achieved through human ingenuity, dedication and sufficient sense of urgency. Nothing prevents similar progress in food systems and climate policies.

He called for the use of science, facts and rational thinking to challenge fear mongering and financial and political interests which argue for the status quo and ever more intensive farming. “The science is clear. If we want lasting food security, we need to address all the problems in the food system and we need to start now.”

He concluded on a positive note: “You have to point to the seriousness of the situation and then you have to give people an indication of how we get out of trouble,” he said, adding: “If we embrace the change, we can be successful.”

The session ended with Dr Martin Frick, Director, World Food Programme (WFP) Global Office in Berlin and Sean de Cleene, International Food Systems Partnership Expert, giving their outside perspective on how the EU is delivering on its Green Deal and farm to fork strategy.

Dr Frick commended the EU for providing “thought leadership, the recognition that our food systems have got to work within planetary boundaries”. If those boundaries are ignored, an organisation like the WFP “is coming in to pick up the pieces”. In 2019, the WFP looked after 135 million people. Today, the figure is 350 million.

He explained sufficient food is being produced, but much is wasted in both the developed and developing world and the majority of grains are destined, not for humans, but animals and bioenergy.

Mr de Cleene agreed the EU is showing global leadership, with “some brilliant initiatives coming to the fore”. His concern was whether the shift in speed and scale that are essential for the transformation would now take place. The prize is to produce more food in a way “that nurtures the planet, is healthier for people and brings society with it”, not more food as cheaply as possible.

“Radical at scale coalitions” involving large companies, the financial, insurance and public sectors, accompanied by demand side measures, innovation and informed data could drive the necessary transformation.

You can watch the whole event and exclusive interviews with the speakers on our videos page.

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