By Jannes Maes
While it seems appropriate these days to dispense with any sense of nuance in order to make a point, I would like to strike a balance between the different views on the green deal and its different strategies. On the one hand environmental organisations look at the green deal and its objectives convinced that it offers opportunities for farmers and will, without a doubt, bring prosperity to the sector and the environment. On the other hand farmers’ organisations tend to focus on the threats these strategies pose, the uncertainty about land use and investments, the loss of entrepreneurial freedom and that farmers ultimately will end up footing the bill.
As young farmers we have the chance, and responsibility, to both discover the opportunities and outline the risks. Let it be clear that the main objective of creating a more sustainable world in which nobody is left behind is not up for debate. The premise that sustainability has 3 pillars (People, Planet, Profit) which are equally important and crucial is also not up for discussion. What is relevant, however, is how we define and achieve sustainability.
I would argue that “sustainability” describes a process rather than a destination. It should not just be about envisioning the world in 30 years’ time. Sustainability starts tomorrow and this process won’t have ended by 2050. This implies that the road of sustainability must focus on both the short and the long term. Boosting short-term profits by ignoring the environment in the long term is not sustainable, just like destroying the short-term financial perspective in order to save the environment in the long term is not sustainable. A catch-22, you might say. This clearly shows the need for balanced policies and an evolutionary process rather than a sudden revolution.
Because of this, the European green deal, and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in particular for agriculture, should not only reflect on the Union’s environmental ambitions. If these strategies are truly designed to create sustainability, they must take into account the path to stronger economic resilience. How will the added value of “greener” food increase the economic return (as much as possible out of market, through public policy where necessary) for farmers, while still remaining affordable for consumers?
As young farmers, across Europe, let’s take action and show how we think it is possible to reconcile these elements. Individually to prepare our farms for a new future, within our organisations by sharing these experiences and ensuring the right policy instruments are available.
Jannes Maes is President of CEJA, the European Council of Young Farmers. Prior to becoming President of CEJA, he served as the CEJA Vice President and as the international representative of Groene Kring, the Flemish young farmers’ organisation. When not engaged in politics and representation, Jannes can be found working on the family farm, alongside his father and brother.
This article appeared in Farmers of Europe Magazine nbr. 1.