Demand for food is set to rise by 70% due to the global population growing to 9.6 billion by 2050. Feeding them all will be a serious challenge. In reports adopted during last week’s plenary, MEPs stressed the need to invest in agricultural technology, while still reducing agriculture’s ecological impact. They also looked into how farmers in Africa could be helped.
According to the UN’s World Food Programme 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. The vast majority of them live in developing countries. In sub-Saharan Africa one person in four is undernourished.
Reducing farming’s environmental impact
In the EU, 10% of CO2 emissions were the result of agricultural activities in 2012, according to Eurostat. If you also take into account land use and deforestation, processing, transport, packaging, retail and waste, that figure would be a lot higher. The UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates the global figure to be in the region of 43-57% in its 2013 Trade and Environment Review.
Dutch ALDE member Jan Huitema wrote a report on innovation in European farm management, which was adopted in plenary last week. “Farmers have the capacity and the knowledge to innovate, but are limited by obsolete legislation or rules,” he said.
According to his report, precision farming can reduce the amount of pesticides, fertilisers and even water needed. In addition the environmental footprinte could also be reduced by using ICT-based management systems, which for example make use of information gathered from robotics.
Huiteman added: “Many cutting-edge practices such as combatting pests with insects or making green-fertilisers from waste stream are there, but European legislation sometimes still hampers those innovations. MEPs chose this week to move forward rather than remain stuck in the past.”
Safeguarding genetic diversity
British ECR MEP Anthea McIntyre points out in her report, adopted during last week’s plenary, that genetic diversity and the quality of plant genetic resources play a crucial role in agricultural resilience and productivity.
“The large corporations know that as well as we do, so I am sure they will bear diversity in mind right across their development programme,” she said in a statement. “We should not lose sight of the benefits of smart farming provides, as it is ultimately designed to lower pesticide, fertiliser and water-use while optimising yields.”
Boosting agriculture in Africa
The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition was created in 2012 to invest in African agriculture and help resolve problems. The initiative involves African governments, G8 countries as well as agricultural company Syngenta and fertiliser company Yara International.
German Green MEP Maria Heubuch wrote a report on it, which was adopted during last week’s plenary. She criticised the focus on monoculture and the dependence on fertilisers in Africa, saying: “Too much land is used to produce cash crops for export rather than food crops for local consumption. This makes African countries highly dependent on imported food and vulnerable to fluctuating prices on the world market.” Heubuch did not consider GMOs a solution: Genetic engineering is not leading to higher yields. Instead, GM crops have led to the use of more, not less pesticides.”