“Four Cornerstones for the Future of Food and Farming in the EU”, address delivered by Mr Janusz Wojciechowski at 2023 State of the Union conference, organised by the European Institute University, Florence.
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Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the European University Institute for inviting me to take part in this year’s State of the Union conference. It is my great pleasure to join you.
This year’s theme, “Building Europe in times of uncertainty”, is well chosen.
It is a theme that reflects our present surroundings; as you know, many famous buildings of Florence can be traced back to the Renaissance, a time of great creativity, but also great uncertainty.
It is a theme that also reflects our present circumstances; in these challenging and uncertain times, we must seek ways reinforce the future of society in Europe.
When it comes to reinforcing the future of agriculture, I would like to set out four fundamental cornerstones, upon which we can build our conversation today.
The first cornerstone is food security.
Thanks to the work of our farmers, we enjoy a safe supply of nutritious and high-quality food in the European Union.
In recent years, however, the resilience of our food supply chain has been tested; first by the COVID pandemic, then by the impacts of Russia’s illegal aggression.
So far, our farmers have met these challenges and maintained food supply.
However, this is not the case everywhere. From the many alarming figures contained in yesterday’s Global Report on Food Crisis, we can take some simple facts: too many countries face food insecurity; too many people are at the edge of starvation.
In the European Union, we have a major responsibility in safeguarding global food security.
To meet this responsibility, the EU is providing more than €8 billion worth of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations in the period 2021-24.
Our role as a food exporter is also vital: last year, 60% of EU wheat went to Middle-East and North African countries, and 26% to sub-Saharan Africa.
However, to safeguard food security in the long term requires more systemic actions.
This brings me to the second cornerstone: the stability of our farming systems.
The production of food depends on farmers; however, between 2010 and 2020, we lost 3 million farms in European Union. In Italy, almost 300,000 farms disappeared during this period.
The best way to secure food to ensure a stable farming community, supported by stable incomes.
The Common Agricultural Policy is designed to do exactly this, providing an income safety net for Europe’s farmers, and directing stronger levels of support to those who need it most, including:
- small farmers,
- young farmers,
- and farmers facing specific difficulties.
The CAP also helps farmers to maintain their productivity and competitiveness, while increasing resilience and sustainability, for example, through supports for precision farming techniques.
This brings me to the third cornerstone: sustainability.
In recent years, our farmers have been placed at the front line of climate change. The drought currently faced by many Italian farmers is just one example.
As part of our efforts to tackle climate change, we must strengthen sustainability across the food chain: from consumers and retailers, to processors and farmers.
Our recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy includes stronger incentives to help our farmers adopt more sustainable practices, while maintaining their productivity.
We are also driving research and innovation through the Horizon Europe programme, with a budget of around €9 billion for projects that advance new solutions for more sustainable food and farming.
For instance, we are exploring models to support the development of carbon farming, which can deliver win-win benefits for soil health, carbon capture, and farmers’ incomes.
If we are to transform our climate ambitions into concrete achievements, such a holistic path is our best hope.
And it is a path that Europe cannot take alone.
Internationally, the EU will continue to play a leading role in multilateral organisations, such as the United Nations, and will continue to strengthen the sustainability chapters of our trade agreements.
And this brings me to the final cornerstone: solidarity.
To provide food for a growing global population, which may approach 10 billion by 2050, we must work together.
That is why we are supporting over 70 partner countries around the world to boost local food production.
For instance, with the African Union, we have set out a Rural Transformation Agenda, to strengthen rural communities and accelerate the transition to resilient food systems.
We will continue this work at our next Ministerial Conference, in Rome on 30th June this year.
And of course, solidarity has taken on a greater meaning since Russia began its war of aggression.
As part of our efforts to stand with Ukraine, we have established the Solidarity Lanes, which have become essential lifelines for their economy and food exports.
It is true that these corridors brought unplanned consequences for some of our Member States, including my home country of Poland. As a result, we have had to make changes and find compromises, while maintaining our support for Ukraine.
And this brings me to my final point: we need solidarity not only with our international partners, but also within the European Union; we need to listen and learn from each other, and take the path that binds us closer, rather than breaks us apart.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
For the task of building Europe in times of uncertainty, I have presented four cornerstones, based on four fundamental truths:
- Society depends on food; we must therefore ensure food security;
- Food depends on farmers; we must therefore ensure the stability and economic viability of our farming communities;
- Farmers depend on the environment; we must therefore ensure the sustainability of our food systems
- and finally, we all depend on each other; we must therefore ensure solidarity, especially in difficult times.
By building on these four cornerstones, I believe that we can reinforce the foundations of the European Union, laid down in the Treaty of Rome over 60 years ago.
Because this much is clear: the State of our Union depends on the State of our Food System, and the future of European agriculture is the future of Europe itself.
On that note I thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to our conversation.