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Dacian Cioloș

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development

Delivering sustainability and resource efficiency in Europe's farms, fields and forests

Koli Forum

Joensuu, Finland, 15 September 2011

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to return to Koli.

I will talk today about agriculture and energy. Agriculture provides energy. It provides energy (food) to human beings. It also provides energy for economic activities.

But all this provision of energy needs to be carried out with care and in harmony with nature.

More than three quarters of European land (77%) is covered by farms and forests.

They are the core of our rural landscapes. They are the source of our food, of the products we use in industry, and of the biomass we use to make energy. They are all dependent on soil and water – the most important public goods under our care.

The responsibility of agriculture and forestry is paramount. These sectors work with life. We cannot benefit from nature unless we integrate its cycles, unless we do it in a sustainable way.

We need to develop eco-nomical as well as eco-logical competitiveness in our agriculture.

These public goods are under extreme pressure and if we do not act, that pressure will increase:

  • Forty-five percent (45%) of European soils are under stress, with low levels of organic matter. Almost a quarter suffers from erosion.

  • Valuable ecosystems are disappearing.

  • Farmland birds declined over the last 20 years by twenty, twenty-five percent (20-25%), grassland butterflies went down by seventy percent (70%), the bees are dying

Meanwhile, the production which has contributed to this pressure is no longer growing, but the people of this planet and their food needs, are on the increase.

Behind these figures lie three key global challenges:

  • The first is food security. Why do I say first challenge? Quite simply, because when you are hungry everything else takes second place – and in policy terms, that hierarchy is worth remembering.

  • This concern is not a temporary one. It is structural and growing.

  • Food prices continue to increase and world food demand is expected to grow by a massive seventy percent (70%) by 2050. This will go hand in hand with growing demand for feed, fibre, biomass, and biomaterial.

  • If agriculture responds to this enormous need in purely productivist ways, the effects on our natural resources and our environment will be terrible.

  • So, the food challenge cannot be disassociated, from the challenge we face to deliver on green growth and biodiversity.

  • And of course, this change must also integrate the need to adapt to and combat climate change, the third challenge.

  • Climate change is not only a long term danger. It is already happening, as we see more and more extreme weather events.

So again: we need an integrated approach to this triple challenge.

My own challenge is the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Next month, the European Commission will present a legislative package setting out its proposals for the future.

This reform needs to provide the instruments for green agricultural growth. More than ever, it also needs to take into account the diversity of agricultures across the EU and to improve their productive and environmental potential.

It must also recognise the economic challenge faced by Europe's farming communities.

This is no easy task.

  • Farming is more and more exposed to high market volatility,

  • Farmers from less favoured areas are more and more exposed to competitive pressure – in Finland you know this all very well...

Therefore I will propose in the new CAP reform to maintain direct payments in order to give basic financial security to our farmers, without distorting international markets.

I will also propose instruments which promote a variety of farming structures across Europe which will, in turn, produce different products for different markets – from commodities, to niche and local markets.

Our aim must be a resilient, competitive and diverse European farming sector, which continues to produce throughout our regions.

But in doing this, we must also reconcile food production with environment protection. I will promote a positive role for agriculture in managing our natural resources.

Therefore, I will propose in the new CAP reform to strengthen the link between direct payments and compliance with mandatory environmental standards through some simple but effective measures.

The Commission will propose that thirty percent (30%) of direct payments be available to reward environmentally sustainable practices in agriculture.

Within the rural development programme, EU Member States will be able to support farmers who want to do even more to fight climate change and protect the environment.

I believe the application of these measures will offer considerable reservoirs of biodiversity, ecosystems with high added value in terms of soil, use of water, carbon sequestration and landscapes.

But setting agricultural production onto a sustainable growth path will be possible only with major research and innovation efforts. Agricultural research in Europe, even in the most advanced Member States, needs to be properly connected to farming needs.

We need the research which will deliver resource efficiency. We need to bring down our pollution levels.

This is why, in the next period, the budget devoted to agricultural research will be more than doubled. In parallel, a European Innovation Partnership is being developed to fill the gap linking research communities and farmers.

Its aim is to increase agricultural productivity in a sustainable way, for all farming categories, and to better connect research, advice and practices in farming and forestry.

Above all, we need to get the research out of folders and into fields.

Forests also have a key role to play in combating climate change, desertification and preserving biodiversity. As you know well in Finland, wood also represents a considerable economic resource.

Forests represent jobs: 2.5 million people are employed in the forestry sector in Europe. They are a key resource for the viability of our rural countryside.

Its potential is growing by the day due to new applications in the industrial and energy sectors. Biomass is a good example. By 2020 biomass could represent fifty percent (50%) of total renewable energy and half from it could come from forest biomass.

So Europe's forest and forest products have a vital role to play in contributing to the overall Europe 2020 objective of sustainable growth.

With over a billion hectares of forests, Europe has twenty-five percent (25%) of the world's forest.

And - contrary to what is happening elsewhere in the world - in Europe, the forests are gaining ground, with a growth of eight hundred thousand hectares per year (800,000 ha/year) over the last 20 years only.

But again, if we want to use forests, we must do so sustainably, in a way which protects this fragile resource. As part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy post-2013, targeted measures on forests will be both strengthened, made simpler and more flexible.

But I also believe we can do far more for our forests if we fortify our capacity for policy formulation and cooperation at European level. This would allow us to develop a comprehensive and ambitious joint sustainable forest management.

Strong and coherent European policies in both agriculture and forestry will provide us with the policy platform to work with partners across the world.

In particular, the poorest countries in the world need our help to address the very same global challenges. Our development commitments remain vital, even in these difficult economic times.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Put very simply, Nature works in integrated ways. We now have to learn to do the same. We need an integrated approach to sustainability and resource efficiency.

The world needs agriculture and forestry for its food and its energy. But the idea that farmers can just be producers is no longer sufficient. We are working with living material, which must be understood, protected and promoted even as we go about our daily task of feeding this planet and managing its resources.

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