As part of our #FoodFuture campaign, we spoke to Petros Kokkalis MEP about the importance of sustainable agriculture in the fight against climate change and how we can achieve more sustainable food systems.
Agriculture is a fundamental human activity that intrinsically depends on nature but can, at the same time, pose an important threat to it.
Unsustainable food systems are known to cause deforestation and soil degradation and to contribute to global warming, with food production being responsible for 21-37% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In other words, climate and food systems are in a reciprocal relationship, with climate shocks impacting food systems, and vice versa. The 2019 IPCC Special Report on Climate Change not only acknowledges the impact of agricultural land expansion on GHG emissions, but also emphasises how other food system aspects – for example, consuming healthy and sustainable diets and reducing food loss and waste – are key for reaching GHG reduction targets.
In this regard, the impact of climate change on food security and nutrition, as well as human and planetary health, will become more and more evident in the coming decades. Moreover, climate-related disasters, such as floods and wildfires, are a major threat to the stability of global, national, and local food systems.
The European Green Deal and its Farm to Fork strategy, aims to transform Europe’s food systems, strengthening their resilience, while in parallel improving diets and reducing food loss and waste. To put it another way, creating food systems able to feed the growing global population is critically important, but, at the same time, we need to make sure these systems are sustainable. Healthier, more sustainable, and equitable food systems will play a crucial role in achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Ensuring access to safe and healthy food for all and conserving nature, are the two priorities on which sustainable agriculture should be built upon- agricultural practice and policy should promote efficient use of resources, protect biodiversity and natural ecosystems and enhance the resilience of people and rural communities. Several different approaches, namely agroecology, organic farming, permaculture, carbon farming, regenerative agriculture and more, can be related to sustainable agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, consists of farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity, increase ecosystem health and resilience, improve watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services.
Principles and techniques used in regenerative agriculture include cover crops, rotation cropping, minimising soil disturbance, reduction of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, attraction of natural predators of pests and livestock integration. By largely focusing on soil health, they manage to increase biodiversity and natural organic matter in the soil, leading to more nourished and resilient crops.
Regenerative agriculture can, thus, play a key role in the transition towards carbon net-zero, by inverting – through carbon sequestration – the GHG emissions associated with conventional agriculture. It is a nature-based solution which aims to go beyond reducing the negative effects of agriculture, towards ensuring positive environmental and social impacts.
In this transformation, all affected stakeholders should be taken into consideration and supported, while proper monitoring of the progress is essential and will take place using the new modernised agricultural statistics tools of the European Union.