Innovation in EU Agriculture|
CHAPTER 1: Introduction
"Sometimes we talk about agriculture as
something very old and traditional: it is not competitive and
we can forget it. We really don't understand how strategic agriculture
will be in the future ... We have left the era of surplus and
come to the era of scarcity. We need to refocus what an Innovation
Union is. In my mind, agriculture is at the centre of an Innovation
Union and the new global challenge."
Mr Paolo de Castro, MEP, Chairman, Agriculture
Committee of the European Parliament
1. In the recent past, agriculture in the UK
and in the EU has often been seen as one of the less interesting,
indeed less important, parts of our economy. The systems of food
production, distribution and retailing that have evolved in the
Member States of Western and Northern Europe have provided consumers
with growing ranges of food products, at cost levels which have
been generally affordable.
2. In the last few years, however, a realisation
of the threats to this situation has grown. There are significant
challenges which must be understood, and tackled urgently, if
European agriculture is to keep pace with changing economic and
environmental conditions. This includes the ability to play an
appropriate role in supporting global food security.
3. In March 2010, we published the report of
an inquiry into the adaptation of EU agriculture and forestry
to climate change. The
impact of likely changes in the climate over the next few decades
is one of the major challenges to be faced by farmers in the EU:
increasingly severe episodes of extreme weather are projected,
including periods of drought alternating with storms and flooding.
The implications will vary for the different parts of Europe.
Our inquiry identified a number of steps which UK and EU policy-makers
should take to strengthen the adaptation process: innovation in
agricultural practice is a prerequisite for such steps to succeed.
4. We launched our inquiry into innovation in
EU agriculture in July 2010. The debate on reform of the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2013 was already underway. In
November 2010, the European Commission published its Communication
on "The CAP Towards 2020: Meeting the food, natural resources
and territorial challenges of the future";
legislative proposals for the CAP post-2013 are likely to come
forward in the second half of 2011. In January of this year, we
sent the Commission our comments on the Communication, taking
account of concerns that had emerged through evidence received
in our inquiry by that stage.
In April, we published a report on the EU financial framework
from 2014, in which
we also expressed our views on the reforms needed to the CAP.
5. In June 2010, the European Council adopted
a new strategy for growth and jobs, the Europe 2020 Strategy,
in which innovation is central. The European Council agreed that
the CAP must play its part in delivering that strategy. In October
2010, the Commission published a Communication on the "Europe
2020 Flagship Initiative: Innovation Union";
the initiative envisaged setting up European Innovation Partnerships,
one of which would deal with sustainable and productive agriculture.
6. The Innovation Union initiative is intimately
linked with the EU's research efforts, organised through the Seventh
Framework Programme (FP7) for the period from 2007 to 2013. FP7
has a total budget of some 53 bn of which just under 2
bn are allocated to food, agriculture and bio-technology. In February
2011, the Commission issued a Green Paper "From Challenges
to Opportunities: Towards a Common Strategic Framework for EU
Research and Innovation funding",
to help shape decisions on the Framework Programme from 2014.
7. We have taken account of other studies in
developing our inquiry. In October 2009, the Royal Society published
its report "Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable
intensification of global agriculture".
More recently, in January of this year, the report of the Foresight
project on "Global Food and Farming Futures" was published,
providing a stark exposition of the increasing pressures on the
global food system from the projected rise in the world's population
from 7 billion now to 9 billion in 2050. Our purpose has been
to focus on the implications of these concerns for the future
of EU agriculture.
Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture
The concept, which is often used in current debates
about agriculture, was summarised by the Royal Society in its
report on "Reaping the benefits" as meaning the
process of increasing agricultural yields without adverse environmental
impact and without the cultivation of more land.
8. The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2010-2019
sets out projections for increases in agricultural production
over the next decade in different parts of the world: in Brazil,
an increase of more than 40% is expected; in the US, growth of
between 15 and 20%; in Europe, the projected increase is about
4%. The starting-points
for these increases vary widely between countries, and European
agriculture is undoubtedly a mature sector, with historically
high levels of productivity, and with standards (for example,
of animal welfare) which are not always replicated elsewhere.
However, projections of this sort show that there is scope, and
need, for the competitiveness of EU agriculture to be addressed
if we wish to avoid the likely diminution of the EU's position
as the world's leading trading bloc.
9. The case for driving innovation through EU
agriculture is not just about avoiding threats. The UK and the
EU are seen as "a powerhouse of creating knowledge";
systematic research and innovation to improve farming will bring
economic benefits to Europe, but this will also generate the knowledge
to support "much of the innovation that low-income countries
are going to require to meet the food challenges ahead".
We were heartened by the evidence which we received of high-quality
research being conducted at institutes in the UK and elsewhere
in the EU; these are highly valuable intellectual resources which
must be maintained and exploited with understanding and forethought.
10. This report looks first at the wider context
for innovation in EU agriculture, notably the need for a strategic
approach to food production, the theory of innovation and examples
of agricultural innovation. We then look at the state of agricultural
research, and its potential to help meet the challenges from climate
change and other environmental pressures which the farming sector
will confront in the coming years. We consider the key questions
of how innovative knowledge should be transferred to practitioners,
in the context of an approach which views the production and distribution
of food and food products as a system encompassing farmers, processors
and retailers. We deal then with issues of policy-making and regulation
in the UK and EU.
11. The members of the Agriculture, Fisheries
and Environment Sub-Committee who conducted this inquiry are listed
in Appendix 1, showing their declared interests. We are grateful
for the written and oral evidence that we received for our inquiry;
Appendix 2 lists the witnesses who provided it. We are also grateful
to Dr Julian Clark, Lecturer in Human Geography at the University
of Birmingham, and Dr Jonny Wentworth, Environment and Energy
Adviser in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology,
who acted as specialist advisers to our inquiry.
12. The Call for Evidence that we issued is shown
in Appendix 3. The evidence that we received is available online.
13. We make this report to the House for debate.
1 Q 220 Back
8th Report (2009-10); HL Paper 91 Back
13th Report (2010-12): EU Financial Framework from 2014;
HL Paper 125 Back
See: http://royalsociety.org/Reapingthebenefits/ Back
; and evidence from Mr Jack Bobo, US Department of Agriculture:
Q 189 Back
Evidence from Professor Charles Godfray, Head of Department of
Zoology, University of Oxford: Q 644 Back