EU should sow the seeds of innovation to transform agriculture urgently, say Lords

07 July 2011

Agricultural innovation must be at the heart of both Europe and the UK's policy-making, in an effort to respond to a rising global population, to the challenges of climate change and to food price volatility.

This is the core message of the House of Lords Agriculture, Fisheries and Environment EU Sub-Committee, which today reports the findings of its year-long investigation into innovation in EU agriculture.

There are three main areas that the Committee is strongly urging the EU to consider in the current debate about the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and innovation policy:

  • The European Commission must significantly increase investment in scientific research in the agricultural sector by reducing the proportion of funding devoted to the CAP and diverting it to agricultural research by the EU's Research Programme.
  • All countries must ensure that innovative knowledge is fully communicated to the agricultural sector.
  • The "innovation-hostile environment" (Evidence given by Mr Georg Häusler, Head of Cabinet, DG Agriculture, European Commission, Q 538) of Brussels must be overcome. 

Chairman of the Committee, Lord Carter of Coles, said:

"The world's population is expected to grow from 7 billion at present to 9 billion in 2050 -   that’s another 2 billion mouths to feed with affordable food that is also nutritionally better than ever.  And we are asking our agricultural producers to do this without increasing the amount of land available for cultivation, whilst also tackling the problems of climate change, meaning they must reduce their use of fossil fuels and use fewer practices that emit greenhouse gases.

While agriculture has always had to innovate, farmers cannot be expected to rise to these exceptional challenges without significant help.  The EU collectively, and Member States nationally, must do more to help solve these problems.   With around €400 billion in the agricultural policy budget and another €2 billion allocated to agricultural research, there is huge room for re-allocation of finances without changing the size of the agricultural purse. The Commission’s proposals last week for 2014 onwards were a step in the right direction but they do not represent the shift that is required.

However, an increase in the research budget will count for nothing if we do not also involve farmers. First, research findings and innovative ideas need to be put into practice through better farm advice systems – crucially, farmers must be helped to understand how change can make their business more profitable. Second, scientists, retailers, industry, farmers and consumers all need to be working in partnership. In our inquiry, we heard some good examples of this happening at the moment.  But we must ensure that it is happening systematically across the EU.

Without the investment in research, communication with producers and consumers and a change in regulatory approach that makes Brussels more innovation-friendly, EU agricultural production will continue to stagnate. The stakes are high. Agriculture must no longer be in a policy silo of its own. The UK Government, other Member States and the European Commission must place agriculture at the heart of policy-making."

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