Roxane Feller talks about the prospects of the agri-food chain sector in Europe and the need to foster innovation (Interview published by Ypaithros Hora).
What are the current challenges and opportunities of the European agri-food sector?
The European agri-food sector is currently facing a wide-ranging array of challenges and opportunities that the Agri-Food Chain Coalition is keen bring to the attention of European decision-makers. We have identified four main priority areas that we hope can be turned into opportunities to forge stability for the sector as well as encourage future development in this field.
Firstly, we have the food security challenge with a growing global population. Europe is a major global food importer and exporter and has some of the world’s most fertile arable land and temperate climates. Europe can use these advantages to play its part in sustainably producing enough food for the increasing population in Europe and the wider world.
Secondly, we need to continue ensuring food safety. European consumers benefit from the highest standards of food safety, which are delivered all along the chain from farm to fork. Innovations in the many areas of food production can help Europe to maintain these standards in an effective and efficient way.
Thirdly, we must safeguard the environment as agriculture is so closely linked with nature and dependent on the environment. Innovative technologies, products and practices that assist with making the most efficient and sustainable use of natural resources, can help to improve farming’s environmental footprint.
Fourth and lastly, we need to stimulate job creation and growth within the wider agri-food economy. By enabling innovation, ensuring the deployment of best practices and eliminating unnecessary regulatory or administrative burden within the sector, Europe can continue to be globally competitive, ensure appealing job opportunities and boost economic growth.
By turning these challenges into opportunities, the agri-food chain can invest in a future where consumers in Europe and around the world can continue to have access to healthy, high-quality, and affordable food choices.
What kind of policies are needed to foster innovation?
In order to foster innovation in Europe agri-food policies must be geared towards expanding the availability of innovative approaches and tools to allow Europe to become more productive in a sustainable way. Policies that promote the acceptance of innovative technologies, products and processes can help to guarantee a competitive advantage for the EU and are crucial for the future of the agri-food chain.
Innovation needs to be at the core of today’s policy-making in Europe, with a particular focus on research support for agricultural and food chain development. Investing in research will help to sustain innovation and ensure a better knowledge transfer for a resource-efficient Europe.
The EU must also support science. Ensuring technology and product authorisation systems are science-based, proportional, efficient, cost-effective, reliable and innovation-friendly will help forge a better business environment. Increasing science and risk-benefit communication and education by competent public authorities will also help to improve public understanding of the safety of assessed products.
EU leaders must also guarantee the proper functioning and further integration of the single market in order to boost investment in innovation and stimulate growth. Ensuring access to innovative products and processes along with the corresponding strategic policy initiatives will serve to embed the innovation principle firmly in the EU’s future regulatory approach.
What measures are necessary in order for smaller farmers to be included in the technological change?
What smaller farmers need are skills and training to understand how to use the new technologies. This is best facilitated by practical farm/on the field demonstrations where farmers can best understand how certain technologies can improve their production.
In order for the farming community to take full advantage of the opportunities of technological and digital transformation, it is necessary to establish an appropriate and robust infrastructure. We believe that quality, governance and the organisations involved are all key parts of this infrastructure. Assuring total interoperability between the systems based on European standards would provide a big push for the uptake of technological and digital tools by the farming community. This would ensure a level playing field accessible by all farmers, no matter their size, sector or region of Europe!
Innovation is not a matter of scale, it is a unifying factor among all farmers. Investments in infrastructure (broadband, connectivity), additional support in training (digital skills) and access to advisory services would certainly ease the adoption of new technologies, no matter the size of the farm.
What can be done for the agri-food chain to operate in a more competitive manner, especially regarding the power of supermarket chains?
To grow sustainably, the agri-food industry needs to rely on well-functioning and balanced food supply chains. Dialogue between actors in the chain, both large and small, is key to the successful functioning of a competitive market and, in order to operate efficiently, food manufacturers count on the availability of agricultural raw materials that are competitively priced, and on good business practices.
Competitiveness relies on a holistic approach to policies governing the food chains in Europe. Permanent dialogue through the High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain (HLF) and the European Food Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Round Table has the potential to bring real value added to the chain. The HLF brings together stakeholders across the food chain to assist the European Commission with the development of industrial policy in the agri-food sector.
Looking forward, we believe that a market-oriented CAP that enables efficient and sustainable EU agriculture and fosters stakeholder dialogue is needed to further promote the sustainable sourcing of key commodities.