Food Systems Podcast 37
In discussion with Alberto Arroyo Podcast summary
Wednesday, Dec 08, 2021
The hurdles to implementing sustainable practices
Sustainable agricultural practices abound, but the key question is how to implement them. In our latest podcast, Alberto Arroyo, Head of Policy and Programs at the IUCN European Regional Office, discusses the challenges, the need for a clear, aligned way ahead, and the commonalities between different systems. For a taster, read our short summary below, or dive into the full 25-minute Food Systems Podcast for much more.
Which sustainable agriculture practices could make the greatest contribution today?
Whether we speak about one or another approach to sustainable agriculture, there are a number of practices behind that are relatively coincident in all of them. Crop rotation, cover and companion crops, mixed crops and intercropping, reduction of synthetic pesticides and mineral fertilizer use, no or minimal tillage, lower livestock densities, managed grazing, free range – there are many more. These are the kinds of practices that are definitely helping.
Regenerative agriculture is one of the practices hitting the headlines. Is it a useful framework when some of the terminology seems to be quite broad, even vague?
Yes, why not? If we do the practices right, let’s not bother too much about the names. We came up with a glossary of 180 and there’s even a new one – nature positive agriculture. I’m not sure we’re talking about something completely new.
Some of the practices you outlined are fairly common. What stops any or all of these from being implemented in the majority of European farms?
Challenges in implementation is one of the issues we discuss in the report. The economic issue is a fundamental one. Conventional agriculture is very subsidised. To transition to something different needs support, so these subsidies will probably be redirected to other kinds of practices.
Do you think the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will bring about substantive practical changes on the farm?
Yes, there are opportunities now. What’s very important is that a lot of the responsibility is not in the Commission’s hands, but in the Member States’ hands – which means there are still a lot of decisions to be made and we don’t know what they will look like.
There is a concern that some of all of the national ministries may not be practically ready to take on the responsibility.
Maybe it wasn’t the best to leave that much responsibility to the Member States. It’s difficult to know how we’re going to monitor the achievement of all the targets with different decisions taken not at the central level, and also how the CAP will be translated into performance in relation to environmental targets.
Monitoring performance needs an identifiable baseline. How close are we to having indicators that allow us to monitor performance at a useful level?
That is one of the gaps we identified. And this is an area where we want to focus our efforts. There are lots of indicators and a lot of metrics for measuring environmental performance towards different targets. But at the moment everything is a bit messy. We are going to try to define some recommendations for a potential way forward.
Let’s go back to the practices: which one is most underused, something we could promote better?
One of the targets in the Green Deal is the reduction of the use and risk of pesticides. That’s something that will be useful not only for the environment, but also for health. That’s why it’s also in the Farm to Fork strategy.
Is there anything that consumers at an individual level could do more of?
There is a terrible issue with food waste. That’s in the hands of not only supermarkets and restaurants, but all of us.
You say that sustainable agriculture must deliver economically, socially and environmentally, because otherwise it doesn’t work. How would you ‘rank’ them?
If we have a problem with the environment, we will not have anything to discuss about social or economic issues. If you look at it like a wedding cake, in the base you have all the environmental targets, and afterwards economic targets and after that social targets. Without the environmental targets being achieved, we will not have anything to discuss about the other targets.
IUCN has recently joined the ForumforAg. Here, we’ve always stressed the need for open dialogue. Are there any actors who shouldn’t be invited to join in? And on the other side, who are we missing?
I would say there’s nobody we should exclude, because if we want to achieve change we need everybody to feel responsible for the achievement of the target. I would like to hear any kind of industry or sector you could imagine. Maybe the focus has been quite strongly oriented towards production – farmers and land users. Now we’re getting broader, for example, the pesticide industry which is a very important one.
In these discussions, do you differentiate between ‘natural’ pesticides like sulfur or copper, and synthetics? Or is it a total phase-out of all of them?
I wouldn’t like to differentiate. We need to change the way we’re doing things and this is a challenge. We need to think about it holistically, not focus on a specific one. At the moment, the challenge is the spectrum of the use of pesticides. There are some approaches that are using much, much less.
Finally, can you give us one practical or policy idea that you think would make a difference for a more sustainable food system?
At the moment we’re lacking a clear vision of where we’re going. It depends who you ask. As long as we have different ideas of where to go we are just going to push in different directions. This is one of the fundamental issues: to try to sit down with everybody who is important in this discussion and try to find a common way forward as much as possible.
Read the IUCN report on sustainable agriculture here.
We think you’ll also enjoy a podcast with Emily Broad Lieb, Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard, on finding simple solutions to food waste. Listen to Ask a Harvard Professor on Food Waste here.
If you have found this short summary interesting, there’s lots more to hear in the full 25-minute conversation. It is available now on iTunes, Podbean or Spotify or on this website.
Alberto Arroyo Schnell is Head of Policy and Programme at the European Regional Office of the International...see more Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). He has held leading positions on EU environmental policy for the past 15 years, previously chairing the European Habitats Forum and working at WWF. His current focus is working together with the key sectors related to / impacted by / benefiting from biodiversity and nature, aiming to find ways to achieve the environmental targets jointly and to ensure ownership of these targets by all stakeholders. He has a background in Forestry Engineering.