Stark choices involving food production and biodiversity

Stark choices involving food production and biodiversity

EU experts looking ahead to 2040 have calculated that the best win-win possibility of maintaining Europe’s current agricultural production, while halting harm to environment and biodiversity, comes from maintaining Common Agricultural Policy subsidies, but redesigned to promote agricultural diversification (rather than specialisation) and local multifunctionality, with strict environmental policies and regulations on land use changes in place.

It’s the “best” of four scenarios looked at in a major investigation involving experts from the public and private sectors, combining land use and land cover change data with factors influencing EU food supply and demand, such as climate change, population and economic growth.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global scenarios were adapted to the European context, for example, to estimate demographic and climate-related trends for 2040.

Another scenario looked at was member states having higher discretionary power in defining their agricultural and land use policies, with protectionist measures for agricultural commodities, CAP support maintained and including land specialisation, with land use regulations weakened. The result of that would be equally high total food production, but also the highest impact on the environment (as measured by nitrogen surplus) and poor performance in terms of biodiversity.

Two other scenarios were looked at: One was a completely liberalised economy where CAP support to farming is abolished, and environmental and land-use regulations are lessened. It was projected in this situation that urban areas would expand significantly to the detriment of agricultural land.

Or what if CAP support is abolished, but measures are established to compensate farmers for delivery of public goods, with strong regulations on land use and climate change mitigation in place, and improvements in agricultural efficiency supported?

In both

of these

scenarios, there would be high per hectare output and high efficiency, but ending CAP support would phase out many small farms from the market (due to high competition and prices for land), thus reducing total agricultural output. These scenarios would also be less beneficial for biodiversity.

These findings of the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), are quite likely to shape how the Commission directs policy reform for the next 20 years.

JRC scientists clarified that, “Non-intense and diversified agricultural landscapes have a high potential to support biodiversity, because they contain cropping systems of high natural value that interact positively with their surroundings, thus activating precious natural processes for biodiversity conservation.” Unfortunately, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) prediction that global agricultural production will need to increase by 60% (when comparing 2006 and 2050) doesn’t feature much in the conclusions.

However, it is acknowledged by JRC experts that in a completely liberalised economy where CAP support to farming is abolished, EU farm output is so low that Europe will have to increase imports or export less, to meet the EU food demand in 2040, perhaps literally taking food out of the mouths of people in parts of the world where food security is not so good.

That would come about with an end to CAP support for EU farming, causing land abandonment and production loss from small farms that could not compete in a liberalised market. Possible gains for biodiversity from rewilding abandoned agricultural areas cannot be taken for granted, and the surviving farms would have a loss of species and habitats, not to mention the effect of the EU’s increased imports or decreased exports in other regions.

It is impossible to predict which JRC scenario the events of the next 20 years could cough up. But comparing them reveals the stark choices facing the EU and the world, involving food, climate change, the environment and biodiversity.

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