By Nadia Gagliardini, President of Sipcam Oxon
The European Union has given itself an extremely ambitious plan, by 2050 it will be the first major zero-emission political area in the world and this will be, according to Brussels, the result of its economy: sustainable and innovative - as well as socially inclusive -. The European Green Deal is an objective that involves all sectors: transport, energy, construction, ICT and industries from several sectors (steel, cement, textiles, chemicals to name the major ones).
What is a noble and totally shareable goal must not be discounted in its implementation - as often happens when dealing with such "high" goals - of a political vision sometimes guided by a more ideological approach that is scientifically and objectively rational to true sustainability. The latter is never limited to a single aspect, but to a comprehensive assessment, including the fact that Europe is not divorced from the rest of the world. Extremely complex and detailed in-depth studies are therefore required. With regard to agriculture, which should be considered by the EU as an absolute priority since, as has also been seen in this recent pandemic, the availability of sufficient food must be a primary objective (China for more than twenty years, not having enough land to feed its people and realizing that food addiction is a great weakness, bought huge areas of land to cultivate in many countries around the world). Absolute importance which is accompanied by the ability to produce healthy food in quantity. The industry that operates through technical means to support agriculture has invested and invests heavily on this. Decisions concerning agriculture must be based on a concept of concrete sustainability. Farmers, like it or not, operate in a global context. If Europe adopts decisions unilaterally, which make our agriculture uncompetitive, they will not only further penalize European farmers - some sectors of which are already in great difficulty - and our food independence, but also consumers because many more products will be imported than is already the case today from non-EU countries, with very different standards. For years in Europe and in the main developed countries of the world, the agricultural system and companies in the sector have been working with great determination to continue to provide safe food in quantity and quality and affordable even for low incomes. These continuous improvements and innovation are at the base of the commitment for the whole industry.
The agrochemical industry has been following the path of sustainability and innovation for a long time. The proposal for the CAP 2021-2027 foresees that 40% of budgets contribute to climate action and the national strategic plans for the CAP - which will have to be written at the national level in activation of the CAP post 2020 - should consider all the innovation available to date. The European Green Deal includes two complementary themes (along with others such as biodiversity and the "producer-to-consumer" strategy): on the one hand that of sustainable chemicals, also achievable through financial support for innovation, and on the other that of gradual reduction of the use of agrochemicals and fertilizers. This objective must be balanced with sustainable management, both from a technical and economic point of view, of European agricultural production.
The risk is that the intentions of politics and the legislator - as unfortunately happened in the past - neglect various aspects, such as competition on production, both industrial in many countries, starting with China and India, where environmental regulations and safety are less advanced, and agricultural on the part of countries where technologies and products, including GMOs, are used, other than those permitted in the European Union, and where agricultural practices are less sustainable.
The costs of compliance with the European Green Deal could have effects, in addition to the adaptation of procedures and systems, on the yield of products. For years, the production of agrochemicals and fertilizers has been focused on the search for increasingly effective results. Here too, the industry has shown that it does its part.
The unstoppable growth of the world population, which will reach 9.5 billion in 2050, will generate a greater demand for food. The agriculture sector faces major challenges in the future, ranging from producing greater quantities of food on substantially the same arable land in a climate that is different from the past and unpredictable. Many factors must be considered, such as: the rationalization of the use of water resources, new technologies, the scarce quantity of manpower, the growing impact of genetics (differentiated in the various areas of the planet), the effect of precision farming and artificial intelligence. There will be seven billion farm animals that need to be fed. According to the FAO, even today without pesticides we would have 30% less crops. Millions more could join the list of hungry individuals.
With respect to the future of agriculture and the agropharmaceutical industry in our European Union, it must finally be considered that today, in the value production chain, the farmer is the one who has the greatest risk and a modest profit compared to the distribution system of products up to the customer. The global concentration of the industry in our sector, which has been approved by the European antitrust and its counterparts around the world, has allowed Bayer / Monsanto - born from the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer -, Corteva - resulting from the merger between DUPont and Dow -, Syngenta / Adama, BASF and UPL / Arysta - arising from the acquisition of the American Arysta by the Indian UPL -, to control about 70% of the supply market to seed, pesticide, biostimulant and organic farmers, with a very strong recent integration with the new technologies, from precision farming to AI. This set of assessments leads us to argue that we believe it is essential that Europe tackle the issue of the Green Deal, but we hope that it will be done with an objective and functional approach to the issue and with a long-term vision.