European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
China and Europe – A new ambition for a knowledge-based agriculture
Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences / Beijing
Ladies and gentlemen,
It's an honour for me to address you all today, and I would like to thank the authorities of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences for inviting me to do so.
I would also like to thank the 41 CAAS research institutes and their staff for the active cooperation they have on many on-going projects in the field of agriculture, food, environment protection and technologies at European level or with European Union Member States.
I am sure that for the next 5 to 10 years, we are going to build a lot on all the work done and the cooperation developed so far. There is a real need and interest, for both sides for a strengthened strategic cooperation between us.
In Europe, we like to say that Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Over and over again, we, as humans, have shown a formidable ability to be inventive and innovative when faced with new challenges. And probably in China, you did so more than anywhere in the world in the field of agriculture.
The fact that you managed to feed 1,4 billion people is a great source of optimism, notably knowing that China's arable land represents only 10% of the total arable land in the world. And you proved that it can support over 20% of the world's population.
But still, the future will uncover new challenges. The needs to invest and to work together are present more than ever before.
As experts, you are perfectly aware of the figures. We have to get ready, by 2050, to feed 9 billions people on planet Earth – hopefully offering better living conditions and secure access to safe and quality food to our people. Knowing that hunger affects today nearly 1 billion people. This gives an idea of the size of the challenges ahead.
If current consumption trends continue, we can expect food demand to increase by 70%, at the same time with the demand for feed, fibre, biomass and material.
Therefore, this leads to two important questions :
Are we able to tackle the 21st century's food security challenge?
Then, how do we achieve that goal?
In the past, we achieved productivity gains of up to 20% per decade. But we have seen the impact of certain farming techniques, leading to the over-exploitation of natural resources and to negative impact on environment. The costs of these collateral effects are difficult to evaluate. In Europe, scientists consider that only 11% of our ecosystems are in a good state, 45% of EU soils suffer from problems of quality.
So, to cut a long story short, we must produce more with less, which fundamentally implies a shift towards a different growth path.
We are entering a world in which there are not only climate change and environment-related uncertainties but also economic uncertainties, with the unprecedented volatility of the markets, and social uncertainties generated, for example by the big gap between the standard of living in rural and urban areas.
These three uncertainties create instability and call for action at local, national and international level.
We need to invest.
Of course, we need to invest both human and financial resources in research and innovation– I will come back later to these important aspects. But we also need to invest in the multi-functional role of agriculture as the main fabric of our rural areas. And this goes beyond arithmetic, beyond a policy only aiming at increasing yields or milk productivity.
Today's challenges are complex. We need to adopt a new perspective on farming so as to be able to consider agriculture in all its various aspects. In addition to food security, which in itself has become more complex, there are the variables of natural resources to be preserved and of territorial development – meaning economic activities that bring jobs and growth in rural areas.
This new perspective also means taking into account all aspects related to agricultural economy including, for example, the issue of added-value within the food chain, the organisation of specific sectors and, above all, the balanced development of rural areas. I am convinced that farmers' income and diversification of rural economies (for example in tourism), are part of the answer to the global long term food security challenge.
This is the reason why, in the last years, the European Union developed a holistic approach to Rural Development. Together with the 27 Member States of the EU, we created rural development programmes with objectives, targets and success indicators at national and sometimes regional level.
This strategic approach implies a multi-level governance. It involves local, regional, national and European Union authorities, within a seven years planning approach. It involved research institutes and cooperation among experts. It involves public authorities and private initiatives, a very wide range of knowledge and experiences.
In this context, we also created a local development approach called "LEADER" which, at present, has 2300 local action groups. This approach became a model for other policies at European level. LEADER involves all public and private partners around the concept of community to create dynamics at local level in order to achieve very concrete actions: develop a short food chain, increase added-value for local farmers by investing in processing food at local level, etc.
LEADER has taken root on the ground, sprouted and started producing the fruits we see today. In the coming years it will help us in strengthening the connections between rural and urban zones.
At European level, we share the "good stories" across a European Network of Rural Development to encourage good practices. And I am convinced that we could go for further exchange at international level on this approach as well as on technologies.
This experience can also help us in making our research and development policy more efficient. In the 1960s and 1970s, as I said, there were important challenges, but they were simpler than they are today. For the most part, the problems which had to be tackled by research scientists involved a single variable: the quantitative aspect of food security.
Nowadays, we need to address all problems in an inclusive way. This means, more funds are needed for research and innovation – and the European Commission is committed to double the funds for research and innovation in agriculture for the period 2014-2020. In the meantime, new methods are needed as well as more cooperation among us at political and technical level.
Two key elements for the future are :
Releasing the existing wealth of knowledge and making it available. Present-day communication tools make information available at an amazing rate
Developing knowledge and giving shape to the expertise which will form the basis of the economic and ecological competitiveness of the twenty-first century farming.
In Europe, I am working closely with my colleague, Màire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner in charge of research and development to put in place an efficient toolbox for agriculture around 3 different elements :
Farm Advisory Services;
Rural development programmes offering enhanced cooperation and innovation measures;
and a new European Innovation Partnership.
Those three elements aim at:
Improving the identification of issues to be researched, involving the farmers more, at an early stage ;
Promoting research in all areas and for all agricultural structures. The more complex the problems are, the more the solutions need to be based on a multi-disciplinary approach ;
Supporting not only pure research but also applied research and innovation ;
And last but not least, ensuring that good ideas do not remain confined to expert and scientists publications but are, instead, made available to farm holdings, including small farms, and notified to all farmers.
For all these aspects, international cooperation is crucial.
The cooperation between Europe and China, the two largest agricultural producers in the world is a key for success.
I know you share this point of view that we need to do more together. And during my official visit these days I understood better how wide the field of cooperation could be.
I am sure that many of our priorities could lead to cooperation.
From sustainable resources management (priority of the European Innovation Partnership) to reducing disparities between rural and urban areas, and to improving food quality, food safety and healthy lifestyles, we can for sure share a lot and achieve much more together than alone.
This is a process that already started. I am sure that it can be strengthen by adding our agricultural expertise - and my services are available for that, ready to participate in this task force in order to define priorities and common projects.
As Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, this is my second visit to China. Last time, we had a very successful dialogue on quality products which lead to the registration of 10 Chinese quality food products in Europe and 10 European quality food products in China.
I'm sure that we are on the right path if in the next months and years our scientists and our experts manage to share at least 10 good ideas, as qualitative as the food products we registered!
I am convinced that it is going to be the case. And I conclude by saying that as European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, I will continue to be fully involved to make this happen.