Column: Empower the farmer of tomorrow.

Our society is in full transition. We are collectively searching for answers to the cross-border challenges we face. Look at climate change with increasingly prolonged heat waves, severe droughts and catastrophic floods. Or the lightning-fast evolution of smart technology that -willingly or unwillingly- invades our living rooms. This year we will reach the milestone of 8 billion people worldwide. The population is increasing on all continents, except in Europe where population ageing is the most advanced.

These changes are also increasingly being felt in agriculture. The picture looks anything but rosy. The number of farms in Europe has fallen from around 15 to 10 million in recent years. It is estimated that by 2040 as many as another 6 million farms will have gone out of business. This alone will change the face of agriculture in Europe.  What’s more, the alarm bells sound even louder when we look at the broader picture and the disturbing geopolitical developments in the world.

For as long as I have lived, food security in the EU has always been taken for granted. More and more I realize that this is no longer the case at all. Extreme droughts in Europe cause enormous damage. In 2018 alone, the damage for France was around €2 billion. Due to climate change, droughts will become more frequent and the losses for Europe could reach up to 40 billion euros per year. Globally, this puts food security under increasing pressure. During the COVID pandemic, the number of people in famine doubled from 135 to over 270 million. Extended periods of drought are exacerbating famine in many countries around the world. Add to that the Russian war in Ukraine, and the situation threatens to become explosive. The lack of fertilizers and the halt on grain exports may lead to enormous instability. World food prices are already almost 30% higher than last year. For the time being it is a problem of food affordability, but soon it will be a problem of food availability.

The question remains, how are we going to continue to feed a growing world population with fewer and fewer farmers and less farmland, under such challenging conditions? For me, the direction we need to take is clear. Europe needs to work on a policy that encourages farmers rather than putting a brake on their entrepreneurial spirit through regulations. The European agricultural policy for the coming years has clearly made the switch to sustainability, which deserves our full support. The shrinking subsidy pot should be used to further stimulate rather than punish. The best empowerment we can give farmers is to encourage them to think about the business model that suits them best. Finally, generational renewal must become an absolute priority. From the European pot, 3% of funds now go to young farmers. Far from enough given the scale of the challenge we face in the future. More will be needed to give thousands of young farmers a future perspective, to maintain our European food security and to continue to feed the world.

Tom Vandenkendelaere
European member of parliament (cd&v/EPP)

Author: Antoon

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