Integrating climate mitigation and biodiversity regeneration in food system transformation

Annual Conference 2022 session 1 summary

Sunday, Apr 17, 2022

Janez Potočnik, Chair ForumforAg 2022 and Chairman RISE Foundation, welcomed participants to the 2022 annual forum with its overarching theme of Striving for Food System Transformation.

He pointed out that the conference, meeting for the first time live and online since covid had forced its cancellation in 2020 and restricted participation to online in 2021, was taking place “under the shadow of the conflict in Ukraine”.

He expressed the Forum’s condolences and support to all those suffering in the war and warned it would have a substantial impact on Europe’s food system. However, the day’s events should focus on the Forum’s core mission: “to contribute to realising the vision of sustainable agriculture in harmony with nature, where farmers can enjoy a decent life and all have access to healthy nutritious food”.

During his address, Per Espen Stoknes, Ass. Professor BI Norwegian Business School, explored how to successfully convince the European Union’s 450 million food eaters and all actors in the food chain to apply the solutions research and science are developing. He strongly counselled against an information deficit approach in which consumers are simply fed facts and data. “Research shows that showing people research doesn’t work.” Such a strategy prompts five psychological mechanisms. These are: distance (the problem is somewhere else), doom (a limited capacity for bad news), dissonance (tension between knowledge and action), denial (burial of uncomfortable facts) and identity (criticism of food choices is an attack on individuals).

He explained how five tools can overcome these negative reactions. Emphasise the social dynamic not facts and charts, keep it simple, make food communication supportive for health, opportunities and society, have signals for feedback and tell a story. “Each food comes with a story and we need to move from a small story to a larger narrative.”

In the subsequent panel discussion, Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Head of Policy and Programme, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) European Regional Office stressed the need for transformation. “All actors need to be part of the solution or we are doomed,” he said, placing special emphasis on farmers as “from the environmental perspective, only farmers are the ones who can make a change”.

During the panel, Robert Horster, Global Sustainability Director Agricultural Supply Chains and Food Ingredients & Head of Environmental Markets, Cargill, noted: “We need to produce more food with less emissions, thus preserving nature. That is almost an impossible jigsaw puzzle to solve.” However, by combining momentum from companies, NGOs, banks, investors and governments and sufficient capital to scale up existing initiatives “we will be on our way”.

Session 1 blog

Continuing the discussion, Heske Verburg, Managing Director, Solidaridad Europe, speaking on zoom from Ghana, made a strong appeal to stop treating farmers as either victims or perpetrators of climate change. They should be considered “climate heroes” using low carbon practices and the enormous potential to store it on their land. “We have to start paying for it and it should be a business case for farmers to transition to sustainable practices.”

Adding to the dialogue, Dirk Jacobs, Director General, FoodDrink Europe, highlighted the “four Cs of crisis” companies face: covid, conflict of war, climate change and costs. He called for stability in business relations and “the need to build in derisking of transition, address volatility that will increase over time and incentivise farmers”. Regulation can create the necessary conditions, but voluntary codes of conduct help set common visions and pathways for the way ahead.

There was general agreement among the panellists that farmers must play a key role in the transformation, they, especially small producers, require financial support, and the war in Ukraine should not deflect the EU from its current energy, environmental and agricultural strategies.

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