Last week Euronews’ Green Week Debate hosted a panel discussing Europe’s ability to ensure food security amidst climate change and increasing global hunger. The panel was led by Damon Embling, senior producer and Euronews journalist, and it featured four guests:
Edward Davey, Director of Partnerships, Food & Land Use Coalition (FOLU) & Co-Director, World Resources Institute UK
Guillaume Gruere, Acting Head, Agriculture and Resources Policies Division, OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate
Professor Mladen Radišić, CEO, Foodscale Hub & Communication Manager, CrackSense
Marloes Martens, Product Manager, Human Nutrition & Health, Ynsect.
In this exciting one-hour panel discussion, Damon Embling firstly reflected on a steep rise in food insecurity worldwide, which has started before the pandemic. Compounding effect of Covid-19, still affecting some parts of the world, along with rising food, fuel and fertilizer costs and the conflict in Ukraine, led many people to experience what is described now as food insecurity. Some indicators have been cited, such as number of people facing acute food insecurity rising to 345 million according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Climate change and extreme weather conditions have shown a particular impact on food production throughout Europe.
On the other hand, Edward Davey reflected on the fact that most of the climate change conversation has been largely focused on energy, even though the global food system causes around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, two thirds of those are produced by animal farming. Food production also utilises around 70% of the world’s freshwater and at least one third of produced food for human consumption is either lost or wasted. These issues have been in a focus of climate scientists and policy makers, as highlighted in the Food2030 policy, the Farm to Fork policy, the Legislative framework for sustainable food systems, EU Soil Health Law, as well as the Nature Restoration Law, which is currently being reviewed.
David also remarked that there is a genuine worry that the positive environmental legislation and EU commitments to reduce the ecological impact of farming might be undermined by the argument favouring food security above all else. However, he added that this view presents a false choice, as the EU can and should uphold its dedication to enhancing farming’s environmental standards, reforming subsidies accordingly, and simultaneously supporting both global and European food security. On the other hand, the war in Ukraine has shifted the debate somewhat, meaning the EU has had to focus increasingly on growth – more than it did before the conflict. The need to address global frameworks has also been underscored since currently most of the decision-making is being made at national levels, even within the EU.
Guillaume Gruere followed the discussion by stating that until February-March last year, there was a notable shift towards greener agricultural practices in Europe. However, the discourse changed to prioritize food production for security, leading to the emergence of the concept of food sovereignty, causing tensions in specific markets and income shocks in different countries, ultimately resulting in food insecurity within the European continent. He also tackled the very idea of sustainable growth, by pointing out that it does not necessarily mean increasing production forever. According to him, it means doing better and implementing more sustainable practices, implying the need to reduce emissions and resources to produce the same amounts or more – but with fewer resources.
The debate was then shifted towards the potentially more sustainable solutions and initiatives, which are targeting paradigm shift in food production and changes in consumer behaviour. One of such initiatives is the recently initiated EU-funded project, CrackSense, presented by Professor Mladen Radišić. He explained that the project aims to tackle the issue of fruit cracking, exacerbated by sudden climatic changes and rain surges after prolonged periods of drought. The project focuses on digital innovation, and the proposed solution will consist of developed and upscaled proximal and remote sensing technologies which will collect real-time fruit and orchard data and provide a decision-making platform for farmers to mitigate fruit cracking in various types of crops.
“Farmers experience more than 30% yield loss due to fruit cracking in grapes only. This is something we want to monitor and see how farmers can benefit from simple digital tools and help them treat their yields in a better way”, Professor Mladen Radišić explained.
He argued that the south of Europe has witnessed drastic changes, with droughts and forest fires and with annual yield losses of 30-40% in grapes only, which is why table grapes will be part of piloting activities in Greece. The main idea behind the project lies in possibility that farmers will use these sensing and decision-making tools to understand how to better treat their yield. He underscored the fact that Europe has been contributing a lot, especially under the Framework of research and innovation collaboration schemes and funding programs such as Horizon Europe, which are focusing on food security, food authenticity and digitally supported agricultural innovation.
On the other hand, behavioural changes and consumption preferences have been witnessed among the consumers throughout Europe. One of the changes is the shift towards eating less meat, driving the increase in flexitarianism, vegetarianism and veganism. Sustainable growth which enables protein rich food is one of the pilar goals of Ynsect, as presented by Marloes Martens. She indicated that consumers seem to be more willing to introduce alternative sources of protein into their diets, although this is something particularly being influenced by cultural heritage. For instance, there are populations worldwide which are already consuming insects, such as Mexico or Thailand. On the other hand, insect consumption in Europe is still facing numerous challenges, even though it presents high quality food, rich in protein and minerals, with a lower environmental impact.
As the debate was nearing its end, the panellists were asked to offer 30-second summaries and propose key solutions which will help solidify food safety and security throughout Europe and wider. Check out their answers and the entire discussion in the video below.