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Why agroecology should be the buzzword in EU farm policy negotiations

By Nicole Polsterer

The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) revision may be being negotiated 1000s of miles away from the sun-drenched fields in Brazil, but decisions made in Europe will have a huge effect on how such land is used.

At the end of 2017 I was able to see two very different forms of farming first-hand. One - endless biodiversity free lines of soya was destined to fatten European livestock, the other small-scale Acai berries grown within biodiversity rich forest.

I was thinking of both as I attended the United Green Left and Nordic Green Left conference Building a Manifesto for a Green and Fair CAP.

Representatives from the health, environment, animal welfare, sustainable trade, development, and agroforestry fields were meeting to convince the European Commission to make fundamental changes.

And change is certainly needed - European agriculture is in a dismal state. The average age of a European farmer is 65; 25 per cent have quit farming in the past decade; biodiversity in Europe is declining; water pollution due to run off of fertilizers is a threat to public health; and the EU imports 14 million tonnes of soya form Brazil annually, much of it grown on illegally deforested land. CAP reform could help young farmers and those transitioning to ecological practises; instead they are being driven by industrial interests.

So what changes are needed?

The Dutch Platform for an Alternative Trade Mandate was clear – there has to be binding rules to stop land-grabbing and reduce consumption of animal products. Otherwise, “in an almost totally liberalized world market, the purchasing power of rich meat eaters wins over food security of the poorest”.

The World Agroforestry Centre called for support for agroforestry systems that would significantly increase crop yields compared with monocultures. This is because trees can outperform traditional fertilizers and protect against climate change.

Professor Gladstone Leonel Silva Junior offered a solution that would help solve environmental and social challenges alike: agroecology (sustainable farming, usually on a family or small community-scale, with produce principally for local consumption at a fair price). He explained that if Brazilian agrarian reform focused on agroecology, it would help fulfil the international human rights to food, education, and employment. Instead of importing millions of tonnes of soya, the EU could concentrate on supporting farmers adopting agro-ecological farming practices, including mandatory crop rotation, in the EU. This would have a positive effect on the environment, farmers and animal health.

To input into the CAP reform process, Fern has produced an English language summary of Leonel Silva Junior’s book, the Right to Agroecology, which explains how constructive use of national legislation and international norms and standards can promote human rights to food, work and the environment in Brazil and in the EU.

It may require a radical new way of thinking away from the industrial paradigm, but there is still time for the new Common Agricultural Policy to support local farmers in the EU in a way that also supports farmers in Brazil.

For more information read our report on the future of the CAP.