soil

External blog: Farming lobby has wrecked efforts to defend our soil

Farmers’ unions and the UK government have torpedoed the European soil  framework directive, says George Monbiot in his blogpost on theguardian.com.

You would expect farmers to try to protect their soils, but many farmers are growing crops that are incompatible with protecting the soil. This is a result of a complete failure of effective regulation, Monbiot states.

The EU proposed measures for defending soils. The draft directive asked the member states to take precautions to minimise soil erosion and compaction, to maintain the organic matter soil contains, to prevent landslides and to prevent soil from being contaminated with toxic substances. However, at the end of last month this soil framework directive was scrapped. The British National Farmers’ Union took credit for the decision. If the NFU and the British government had set out to damage the interests of this country they could scarcely have done a better job.

Read full text on the guardian.com >

 

Photograph: Paul White /Alamy (source: theguardian.com)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“We do not talk to them”

Last week our Dutch project ‘Het Eetcafe’ was in Brussels, with young farmers and young SlowFood people from other countries. France, the UK, Belgium, Germany, Poland and Italy were represented. Our project partners NAJK & YFM fraternally presented the project activities.

Unusual allies

The core of Het Eetcafe is the collaboration between two organizations which are different in all respects: one of young farmers and the other of young people with an interest in food. NAJK is an old association of young farmers, which operates at the local, provincial, national and European level, with 8,000 paying members. It is committed to the interests of the agricultural sector, an established organisation with subdivisions, good contacts at national and Brussels level, secretarial services, and staff. On the other hand YFM unites young consumers, chefs, farmers, producers, students and policy makers who work together on a good, clean and fair food system. They share knowledge and good food. It is a merry troop of urban dogooders, with great talent for PR and trends. These two organisations are not  natural allies, to name a few mutual prejudices: NAJK wants space for large-scale agriculture, YFM wants to cuddly farmers who focus on taste.

From one-year period to long term vision

The ‘Het Eetcafe’ project, which was ‘sold’ to the financiers as a one-year  education project on agricultural policy, is in fact a charm offensive with a long term vision, between two radically different groups of young people. The farmers and slowfood’ers may be very different, they are well aware that they share a passion for food (production) and for that mere fact they will be dealing with each other, in fact, even need each other. Therefor, it helps if you understand the other. Knowing where the other person comes from, learning to understand each other. ‘Take a seat before taking a stand’ is what Het Eetcafe did.Now the one year of the official project period has come to an end. The collaboration will continue. Already it has led to change the thinking of individuals, to new contacts, and finally to actual changes in both organizations. But at the same time it remains difficult. The differences go far. Farmers find that at SlowFood you may get tasty food, but very small quantities…  

We do not talk to them

In our presentation in Brussels we asked the young people present: Could such a collaboration work in your country? No, because there are no organizations of young farmers in France, says a slow food youngster. Yes there are, the Jeunes Agriculteurs, young farmers inform.  “Ah, well, there are those. But we do not talk to them. They think differently…” 

Exactly the reaction young farmers and SlowFood in the Netherlands gave when asked about the other. Het Eetcafe project has achieved a great deal, and yet a lot remains to be done!

 

copa2

CAP: Devilish details forego greening

by Rob Janmaat, Netherlands Rural Network
(first published at HetEetcafé.eu)

After years of reform of the CAP, we are now in the final phase. You would expect that by now the deals have been closed, that final negotiations are only about procedural details.

To my surprise I read in a news item on the greening requirements that ‘details’ can be rather fundamental. One of the main greening requirements is that 5% of cropland will be ‘ecological focus area’ (EFA).
Albert Jan Maat, president of COPA, the European umbrella of farmers organizations, now states that the greening requirements are such that no soil is taken out of production and greening should not lead to lower agricultural production. Also EFA requirements do not prohibit the use fertilizers and pesticides.

While I know that hedgerows and ditches have been allowed to be counted as EFA, I am quite certain that all of those combined still do not add up to 5%. How can this interpretation of COPA be consistent with the text of the reforms? If it can be, greening is indeed pure windowdressing.

Or is this statement part of shadowy negotiation tactics, COPA’s endgame? COPA and thus LTO give me the impression that they want to completely wipe greening off the table. I wonder what is the standpoint of young farmers, like NAJK in this. NAJK president Eric Pelleboer states in a blog on Het Eetcafe “The idea that the agricultural budget of CAP belongs to farmers is outdated. The money is for agriculture but it is not ours. It comes from tax revenues and thus belongs to society, consumers, our customers.” According to Eric aspects such as social support and reputation are invaluable. That seems to me a sound vision for the future. Apparently European agriculture leaders have still a lot to learn from young farmers.

food

External blog: Different versions of food futures

The view for the future of agriculture is twofold: unilineair intensive agriculture thinkers, and others that recognize the drawbacks and think more diversified but also naive. Like Het Eetcafe project Wyn Grant thinks there is scope for a ‘third way': sustainable intensification.  

It entails an acknowledgment is that we are going to have continue with intensive farming (although not everywhere) but it has to be done in a more sustainable way by using inputs in a much more careful way.

Read Wyn Grants  post about Food Futures here >>

wheat varieties

Food Politics goes Europe

A new European regulation for seed was rejected by the Agriculture Committee by 37 votes to two on a Tuesday in February. The most important concerns: it would leave member states no room to adapt the rules to their needs and niche markets. An interesting concern, when the objective was exactly that: more general rules, reduced room to adapt.

At present, 12 EU directives offer member states flexibility for their own national legislations, the new proposal was to merge these into one directly applicable regulation. Other concerns by the agricultural committee were: The proposal failed to simplify the rules and to promote innovation or to deal with plants viewed as generic resources.

Organisations like Seed Freedom by India’s scientist and activist Vandana Shiva cry victory after the rejection, while the European Seed Association, the umbrella organization for seed industries like american Monsanto, Swiss Syngenta and French Limagrain, reacts disappointed. The rejection is because of a massive misinformation campaign directed at the European Parliament, about the content and scope of the proposal, the organization says.

So in this debate it seems like ‘big ag’ industries battle against green activists. This is generally the impression we get of political processes in the field of agri, through the media. Is it really like that?

It’s a theme we at FoodPolitics find very interesting: how are food politics cooked?

african-farming

External blog: Export refunds and Africa

Export subsidies on agricultural products are back in the news again following the somewhat surprising declaration by Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos in his opening speech at the Green Week on Berlin on 16 January, writes Alan Matthews on capreform.eu.

The reference was surprising because the speech was generally about the recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Development issues played a very limited, if any, role in the debates on that reform.

Matthews explains why Commissioner Ciolos raises the issues at this point of time and reflects on export subsidies and food security in general.

► Read full text on capreform.eu

back-to-nature

Back to nature? It’s impossible.

by Janno Lanjouw, Dutch journalist and citizen
(first published in Dutch at HetEetcafe.eu)

Our foodsystem is that of agriculture. That is not as obvious as it may sound: historically, agriculture is quite recent. Humans go back about 150.000 years and for most of this time they were hunter-gatherers. Only in the past 11.000 years they have cultivated food crops.

What did they start? Agriculture is domesticating wild plants and animals; a time consuming affair. A wild cabbage may be an ugly plant with wiry stems and droopy leaves. Selective crossbreeding resulted in a wealth of nutritious vegetables: all types of cabbages and also broccoli and brussels sprouts. In fact, none of the vegetabe varieties are ‘natural’, in the sense that they are manmade. Without a priviledged treatment or protective environment, they will not make it. In general, domesticated animals have smaller brains and weaker senses compared to wild kinds. They are not as antsy and less programmed for fleeing predators. Good traits for the farmer, but a large disadvantage in nature. About the last wild animals we eat, are fish.

natural?

Looking at it from this perspective, the idea that agriculture should work with nature, instead of against nature, is a contradiction. Modern agriculture after the Green Revolution is a war against the chaos of nature in which every species has to fight for its survival and only the strongest, fastest, toughest or cruellest suvives. In this perspective the Green Revolution can be seen as a succesful blow by the farming human against Nature. The use of chemicals for crop protection, mechanisation and fertilizer resulted in a large production boost. Finally, after tenthousand years of fighting hard, now farmers who have the means, can now take it relatively easy…

And then suddenly appears a group of people, many not even farmers, who claim that agriculture should be different, that we have abandoned ‘Mother Earth’ and what not. And they are not all hippies with dowsing rods, even people who normally trust science are opposing agriculture.

GMO Debate

A good example is genetical modification. Whoever types into Google the letters G, M and O will see a lot of controversy. Almost all that emerges about genetical modification of food is negative. And I can tell you: most of that is rubbish. This is why last year I chose to make GMO the main theme of the public debate which concludes the Food Film Festival. Since then the theme GMO has my interest.

This is by no means a plea for GMO. I am not much of a fan OR fierce opponent, -my interest is mainly in how people discuss genetic modification. And it looks like this is changing. The icy polarization is slowly melting. I think.

Recently a leading newspaper in the Netherlands wrote about a GM-tomato which actually has added value -more healthy substances- to offer consumers. Or the New York Times about the quest of a Hawaiian politician to the truth on gentech. Small notifications on the science pages of newspapers bring you to articles about a massive review of existing research on safety of GMO. The great horrorstories, such as those of the Indian suicides among farmers, are hoaxes.

The melting of the polar positions is important, because defenitely GMO is not ‘all cleared’. Especially the increasing concentration of means and power by a few large firms in the seed and chemical industry is scary and potentially threatening. There are some villains out there. But filtering the nonsense from the facts helps to put focus on the real issues.

 

video

External videoblog: Top 5 agriculture – All you need to know for 2014

In this video from ViEUws, the EU policy broadcaster,  AGRA FACTS journalists Rose O’Donovan & Ed Bray provide a quick overview of the top 5 agriculture issues on the agenda under the Greek Presidency that took to the helm on January 1:

  1. Main priority will be securing a common position on EU promotion policy among Ministers,
  2. finalising the so-called ‘delegated acts’ – technical details linked to the implementation of CAP,
  3. revision of rules governing the organic sector,
  4. GMOs and cloning of animals for food production,
  5. review of the EU Animal & Plant Health Package.

Watch video here or go to www.vieuws.eu 

broccoli

Do farmers eat like crap?

by Felicia Alberding, Youth Food Movement
(first published at HetEetcafe.eu)

What do the people who produce our food actually eat themselves? Today, it is not to be taken for granted that a hog farmer eats his own pork. And while an arable farmer might eat his own carrots, he might just as often eat green beans from Kenya. Crazy, I think, with my urban brain. If you are so close to the food chain and actually are part of that chain, you will eat more consciously.

On the website of the U.S. magazine ‘Modern Farmer’ is a piece written by urban types, about the diet of farmers: Why many farmers eat like crap.

“As it turns out, many of today’s farmers face the deep irony of producing beautiful fruits and vegetables for consumers while subsisting on a diet that more closely resembles a McDonalds’ menu than Old MacDonald’s farm.”

Reason: lack of time. About twelve to sixteen hours a day working in the field farmers and farmworkers are busy. A trip to bring products to the wholesaler gives an opportunity to buy other products, but does not leave time to cook – while it does provide a chance to zip through the drive thru. Traditional male-female relationships, in which the woman does housework and cooks meals all day, no longer exist.

During our offline debates between young farmers and young food professionals, I sat with a group of young potato and onion growers. We talked about the value of food. Many farmers find that the consumer has lost sight of that value. We would barely pay for food. But don’t they do exactly the same if they grab the cheapest chicken without problems? When I suggested that we should eat less meat, perhaps not every day, one of the farmers laughed cynically and said “if you stop feeding a farmer meat, he will stop working”.

Can citizens demand of farmers that they set a good example when it comes to good food? And expect that they know and appreciate good food? A farmer stands at the basis of the food chain, s/he knows how the product grows and knows it in their purest form: would farmers therefore not have an aversion to processed ‘factory crap’?

Or is that just my urban thinking? Maybe instead are farmers just happy with the “progress” of processed foods because they save time and give more marketing options? Do they have so much to do with food safety inspections  that they trust everything in the supermarket, blindly? Or do they, precisely because they know how much time and effort it takes from seed to spoon, welcome the opportunity to stock up on fast carbs whenever they want?

I find it interesting food for thougt. Because the assumption of city people that a farmer is close to nature and works all day in the open air, and therefor will live very healthy is not necessarily true. Farmers, sometimes they are just like people.