Davos Agenda

EU organizations join forces with farmers to fight climate change

Image: UNSPLASH/Erik Aquino

John Crawford
Professor of Strategy and Technology, University of Glasgow, Adam Smith Business School
Will Marshall
CEO, Planet Labs
Rodrigo Santos
Member of the Board of Management; President, Crop Science Division, Bayer
Rob Versloot
Chief Executive Officer, Hero Group
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  • Agriculture provides livelihoods for 10.5 million farms across the EU. The whole industry in the EU is responsible for about 10% of the region's greenhouse gas.
  • This shows that the EU not only has the opportunity to set an example but must also take the responsibility to design agrifood systems that are good for people and the planet.
  • Agriculture can be part of the solution to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere while also increasing the resilience of the agricultural system and society to climate change.
  • Strong partnership networks are needed in making this a reality.
  • Working together with farmers instead of excluding them from the process, the ‘Carbon+ Farming Journey’ Coalition has shown initiative to transform the agriculture sector to benefit climate, people and society.

Agriculture is an important sector for the European economy. It provides livelihoods for 10.5 million farms across the EU and, if the entire agrifood sector is included, 44 million jobs are dependent on agricultural production. The EU is also the world's largest agrifood exporter, putting the region’s activities and actions at the helm of the global trade. Yet agriculture in Europe, which occupies more than 40% of the region’s land mass, is currently responsible for 10% of the region’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is a leading driver of environmental degradation.

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These figures suggest that the EU not only has the opportunity to set an example but must also take the responsibility to design agrifood systems that are good for people and the planet. That is why an ambitious group of multistakeholder leaders have come together under the ‘Carbon+ Farming Journey’ Coalition to work hand-in-hand with farmers to help drive the necessary transition of European food systems to deliver critical and urgent outcomes that benefit the climate, nature and people.

Working with European farmers

Farmers, who are the stewards of the land, must be an integral part of the solutions for the European food systems of the future. They possess intimate knowledge of the land from years of experience and cross-generational information and are well positioned to disseminate this knowledge. For this and many other reasons, it is critical that the next generation of agrifood systems is co-developed with the farmer.

Soil degradation, for example, is estimated to cost the EU €97 billion per year. This cost compares with a total agricultural output of €365 billion and is much more than the subsidy bill given to agriculture, through the Common Agriculture Policy. Such degradation is not just an economic burden: it is also a threat for food security. Studies show that land degradation could reduce global food productivity by 12%, increasing food prices by 30% over the next 25 years. Droughts and heavy rains due to climate change will lead to higher soil degradation.

By adopting proven climate smart practices, agriculture is one of the few sectors that can adapt in time to simultaneously increase its resilience while sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. Many of these practices have meaningful cobenefits, such as restoring the ecological processes that farming depends on, building and maintaining healthy soils and which also have important landscape benefits including drought and flood management, and water quality.

Recognizing the potential of the EU food system to deliver on the European Green Deal along with other targets, the EU launched the Farm to Fork strategy. To successfully implement the Farm to Fork strategy, farmers must be offered the chance to buy-into and implement any solution or practice change that is designed. And for this to happen they need to be part of the effort.

New collaboration models to accelerate change

Recognizing the potential of the Farm to Fork Strategy, an ambitious group of multistakeholder organizations from across the food and agriculture value chain have come together, under the Carbon+ Farming Journey’ coalition, to implement the strategy by designing solutions to scale and mainstream the adoption of climate smart practices, that are better for climate, nature and farmers. From the start of the collaboration, the organizations agreed on the criticality of understanding the farmer’s reality as a starting point.

“Solutions by, with and for the farmer” as Rodrigo Santos from Bayer, one of the coalition members, says.

Following months of talking with almost 2,000 farmers working across 6 different cropping systems and 7 diverse countries that represent 43% of Europe’s agricultural production, the coalition has unearthed new and compelling insights that could be pivotal in defining the way forward for European food systems. For instance, they found that while 80% of farmers mention that the adoption of sustainable and climate smart practices is driven by consumer demand, only 46% see it as a way to improve their farm performance. Furthermore, among those surveyed who noted interest in carbon farming, very few feel they have access to high quality and useful information to embark in the transition. This shows that there is still work needed to build the business case for climate smart practices and financial incentives that reward farmers for adopting practices that deliver higher value to both farmers and society as a whole.

Farmers also expressed concerns on the investments required to access technologies that help bolster resilience to climate change, such as irrigation systems. Only 3% of potato farmers in Germany were equipped with irrigation systems while potato yields are highly depending on water supply. But such investments are expensive. Farmers, whose incomes are already low and extremely vulnerable to market volatility, cannot be the ones facing this challenge alone. This highlights the need to develop investment and risk-sharing mechanisms among all players across the value chain.

Finally, when looking at policy instruments such as the Common Agriculture Policy, the Coalition found significant differences between the incentive schemes proposed across countries. For example, a carrot farmer in Poland applying climate smart practices could receive up to 2,628$ per hectare compared to 680$ for the same farmer in Spain. This could lead to important market distortions in farmer competitiveness and raises the question on how to create a level playing field for farmers adopting climate smart practices.

Using insights for impactful and innovative solutions

These findings are only a small taste of the insights that have been brought to bear by the farmer outreach, looking into the implementation of the Farm to Fork strategy. The findings will be consolidated into an Insights Report, which the coalition will be launching in the first quarter of the year, hoping to create further transparency and understanding of our food systems in Europe. But the coalition is not stopping with a report. Using these insights, coalition partners are working together – and co-ideating with farmers - to develop the most impactful and innovative solutions to support the transition. Solutions will need to demonstrate high environmental impact, economic attractiveness for the farmer and potential to scale.

For instance, a key solution considered is the definition of “Carbon+ Procurement Principles” that would support the demand and financing for production that is better for people and planet, while allowing processors and retailers to meet their emissions reduction targets and increase their resilience. If product off-takers, like food retailers, are able to partner with farmers for climate friendly practices, this would overcome the sourcing – procurement bottleneck which often hinders farmers to invest in sustainability. Other solutions envisaged include supporting the development of a knowledge and training platform for farmers to gain knowledge and share their experience on climate smart farming; and a climate smart farming practice selection tool that would recommend a best practice “menu” based on farm characteristics and desired outcomes.

Achieving these solutions requires a diverse set of expertise and capabilities. Coalition members are committed and represent a broad variety of stakeholders, but they will not be able to mainstream these solutions and meet the European targets without additional support. Working together with stakeholders they are more likely to make change happen. This is why they are calling for additional public and private stakeholders to join their efforts and help them further develop solutions and put them into execution at scale.

This coalition is part of the World Economic Forum’s 100 Million Farmers platform which is inspiring government leaders and key stakeholders around the world to take action and work together to transition towards net zero, nature positive food systems.

The European Carbon+ Farming Coalition brings together the following organisations: BASF, Bayer CropScience, CropIn, EIT Food, ECAF, Hero Group, Planet Labs, RAGT, Swiss Re, Syngenta Group, University of Glasgow Adam Smith Business School, Yara International and Zurich Insurance Group.

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