Igor Teslenko, President of Corteva Agriscience, Europe
6 December 2019
At the Financial Times Global Food Systems Summit on November 19, Corteva Agriscience VP of Global Responsibility Henri Moore presented the results of our Sustainable Food Systems study with the Financial Times Group company Longitude. The study shows both consumers and farmers in Europe ready to invest in sustainable food, and crucially, also ready to embrace plant-breeding innovations like gene editing that would make it possible to produce more food with less resources. The summit dialogues between farmers, food companies, NGOs and policymakers echoed this shift in the public attitude towards science and technology in food production. Panelists acknowledged the growing urgency to move beyond debates between science and technology and organic farming, and to work together to create a new, inclusive definition of sustainable food production which will truly address the welfare of consumers, stewardship of the environment, and economic viability for consumers, farmers and the entire food system.
2019 was a year of revelations, compelling consumers, policymakers, NGOs and food companies to recognize the urgent need to agree and act on a more inclusive definition of sustainable food production.
Devastating Climate-Change Impact for Farmers Gives Rise to a New Commitment to Climate-Positive Agriculture
Farmers around the world have reported devastating crop losses this year due to the record droughts and floods symptomatic of climate change. At the NA EU Agricultural Conference in Copenhagen this year, farmers from associations across Europe (under the umbrella of Copa Cogeca), as well as from the American Farm Bureau, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Mexican Farmer’s Association, cited climate change as the single biggest challenge facing agriculture today. Farmers expressed their commitment to meeting national agricultural emissions targets, as well as the need for policies that would enable them to employ the tools necessary to meet those targets, including seeds from new plant-breeding techniques like gene editing/CRISPR.
At the same time, the 2019 UN Emissions Gap Report revealed that the national emissions targets set by the Paris Agreement will not suffice to restrict the global temperature rise to 2°C. So, at the 2020 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, all nations may expect to be called on to raise those targets substantially. That means that national policymakers and farmers across Europe are urgently looking for new ways not only to reduce the carbon footprint of farms, but to reverse the climate impact of agriculture.
We know that our annual USD 1.2 billion investment in R&D, and our collaborations with researchers around the world, will be vital to supplying the innovations in green crop protection, new plant breeding, and digital technologies that will fuel a climate-positive agricultural transformation. At the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue in October, our CEO Jim Collins also announced USD 500,000 in challenge grants for farmers who are using innovative climate-positive practices, to help them to scale up their efforts through collaborations with universities, environmental groups, and other growers. Working together, we will make agriculture part of the solution to climate change.
Consumer Demand for Sustainable Food Causes a Positive Shift in Attitudes to Science, Technology and Food Prices
On September 4, 2019, we published our Sustainable Food Systems report with the Financial Times Group company Longitude. This study of 2,500 consumers and 600 farmers in eight countries across Europe recorded a positive shift in consumer attitudes toward agricultural science and technology, driven by a growing desire for sustainable food production. 75% of consumers studied believe sustainable food contributes to their well-being, and 53% of consumers said that they would buy sustainable food produced using scientific innovations like gene editing, which can improve the nutritional quality of food and also reduce the resources and inputs needed produce it.
74% of consumers surveyed also said they would pay more for sustainable food. At the FT Global Food Systems Summit, leaders from Sainsbury’s and Metro AG echoed this, saying that consumers will pay more for sustainable food, especially when they know more about where their food comes from, including more about the farmers who have grown it.
Farmers Who Invest More in Sustainable Farming, Lose More
Ironically, the consumer willingness to pay more has not been passed on to the farmers growing their food. Another resounding message at the NA EU Agricultural Conference in Copenhagen was the need for farmers to stop losing money when they invest in sustainable farming.
Our study showed the same results. 78% of farmers surveyed have already implemented sustainable farming practices. Yet, they say that the pressure to keep prices down means that the greater their investment in sustainable practices, the heavier the financial toll.
Farmers at the FT Global Food Systems Summit underscored this fact, complaining that they do not receive a proportionate share of the higher prices consumers pay for sustainable food, and calling on policymakers and the food system to take action to distribute the return on investment across the food chain.
The message is clear: there can be no sustainable food without farmers. Economic sustainability for the people producing our food was finally recognized this year as a neglected pillar in the definition of sustainable food production, and one that must be redressed if we are to put sustainable food on our tables.
Farmers are also calling on policymakers to allow them to use the tools that will enable to them to truly farm sustainably while producing sufficient food to feed the population. Two-thirds of European farmers surveyed specifically want to be allowed to use seeds from new plant-breeding techniques like gene editing.
Growing Consensus on the Need for a New, Inclusive Definition of Sustainable Food
Collaboration was another key theme at the FT Global Food Systems Summit, with the World Wide Fund (WWF), for example, announcing its partnership with Tesco to reduce the environmental impact of an average shopping basket by 50%, while the Rainforest Alliance spoke of expanding its own certification to allow more producers to join the march to sustainable food production.
The clock is running out for everyone, and everyone recognizes that the time has come to move beyond debates between science and technology and organic farming, and to work together.
Stakeholders agree that we need a new, inclusive definition of sustainable food production that empowers everyone to achieve the three common goals of all stakeholders: to bring healthy food to every person; to protect and nurture the land, the water, and the air in the process; and to ensure that consumers can pay for this food, and farmers can make a living producing it.
We believe the urgency discovered in 2019 will inspire everyone to work together in 2020 to achieve tremendous progress towards making Europe’s food system sustainable.
2020 will see Corteva hosting a sustainability round table in Brussels, investing and innovating boldly to deliver new tools for sustainable agriculture, and working with farmers, NGOs, and food companies to make the entire food system sustainable.
Together, we will bring sustainable food to every home in Europe!