A new report suggests that if one farmer in five transitions to more climate-smart practices, it will increase the European Union’s resiliency to food supply shocks and address the worst effects of climate change.
Growth in the EU’s agricultural sector has come at the expense of environmental health, with soil degradation costing nearly €100 billion, in large part due to lost productivity, which threatens future crop supply. Additionally, agriculture represents 10% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions and is a critical part of the net-zero future.
A new report by the World Economic Forum, Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU, launched today as part of the ongoing efforts of the EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition, makes recommendations on how to work with farmers to strengthen the EU’s food systems. Written in collaboration with Deloitte and NTT Data, it is based on insights from farmers from seven countries that make up a majority of the farmer base in the EU. The farmer survey was designed and implemented by the EU Coalition to shed light on the main barriers to scaling climate-smart agricultural solutions, including challenging farm economics, lack of awareness, uneven technology adoption among farmers of different generations and farm sizes, and fragmentation of policies at the national level.
Findings focus on four areas that can spur the adoption of climate-smart practices among farmers:
Financing and Risk Management: Farmers need innovative forms of upfront capital, guaranteed revenue streams and pioneering insurance solutions. This reflects the fact that four out of five farmers surveyed view sustainability as a necessity, but only two out of five view it as good for business.
Innovation Ecosystems: New climate-smart technologies should continue to be developed and their costs reduced to enable access. At present, the adoption of digital practices is lagging, with 31% adoption rate by farmers compared to 44% for other climate-smart practices.
Education and Awareness: Farmers should be supported in understanding the business case for change, with access to sharing platforms, peer-to-peer learning or on-farm teaching demonstrations. As of now, only 25% of farmers reported having “good” or “very good” knowledge of the subject.
Enabling Policy Environment: The EU must set the right policies to drive the implementation of environmental reforms, while also enabling member states to adjust policies to local conditions. This flexibility has so far resulted in 166 different eco-schemes identified across 22 draft strategic plans in 21 member states.
If an additional 20% of European farmers adopted climate-smart practices, by 2030 the EU could reduce its agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 6%; restore soil health of over 14% of its total agricultural land, thereby improving biodiversity and food systems resilience; and – depending on the level of implementation – add €1.9 billion-€9.3 billion annually to farmers’ incomes.
“No region in the world will be spared from the imminent threats to our interconnected food systems, climate and the natural ecosystems upon which they depend,” said Sean de Cleene, Member of the Executive Committee and Head of the Food Systems Initiative, World Economic Forum. “The current war in Ukraine is a reminder that we cannot ignore the vulnerability of our food systems. Be it a conflict or climate change, the security of our global food systems is increasingly under threat.”
“The EU is waking up to the importance of reshaping its food systems, recognizing the critical role of these systems in achieving the Green Deal and a sustainable and vibrant future. Working with farmers, especially Europe’s next generation of farmers, will be critical to ensure this transition is inclusive and effective,” said Diana Lenzi, President, European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA). “We cannot forget that we are on a ticking clock.”
The transition to climate-smart agriculture will require significant investments and policy changes across the food value chain, with farmers, retailers, investors and consumers each needing to act. To answer the EU Commissioner for the Green Deal’s call for public-private cooperation, the World Economic Forum’s 100 Million Farmers platform established the EU Carbon+ Farming Coalition. The goal of this new multistakeholder partnership is to convene corporations, NGOs and academics, in consultation with farmer organizations, to develop farmer-centric, practical and scalable solutions for climate-smart and nature-positive action. Following the report release, the coalition will move from ideation to implementation, launching up to seven action-oriented initiatives designed to prove the potential of climate-smart agriculture in Europe.