What is RISE?
RISE is a philanthropic foundation that aims to promote a sustainable, profitable and internationally competitive rural economy across Europe and to preserve the European countryside, its environment and biodiversity, cultural heritage and traditions. RISE works through supporting innovative pilot projects, think tank work on rural and environmental issues, and by providing a platform for debate on key issues that affect rural communities.
OUR PRE-FFA WORKSHOP A GREAT SUCCESS
The day before the 7th Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA), March 31st 2014, the RISE Foundation convened a high-level workshop to discuss the preliminary findings of our investigation into the sustainable intensification (SI) of European agriculture.
The proceedings were kicked off by Professor Allan Buckwell of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, who gave a presentation of the concept and explained why we need to measure both agricultural intensity and sustainability in order to manage our path towards a sustainable future. He argued that the growth of the human population, expected to exceed 9 bn by 2050, necessitates an increased food production. At the same time, we cannot convert more pristine land to agricultural land except at an unacceptable environmental cost. To meet this challenge, he argued, Europe and the world need to sustainably intensify agricultural production, meaning producing more output from less input while increasing the production of ecosystem services. Measuring agricultural intensity and sustainability is a key problem which must be solved if we are to achieve this. Professor Buckwell’s presentation was followed by Professor Winfried Blum of BOKU University Vienna, who presented one attempt at measuring key environmental characteristics of farming: a Europe-wide soil survey aiming to map which European soils have the necessary qualities for SI. The key finding from this study is that SI can be recommended for just shy of 40 percent of European soils.
The keynote speeches were followed by comments from a panel of distinguished experts. Professor Les Firbank of Leeds University pointed out that there are at the moment huge disagreements regarding both what metrics need to measure in order to measure sustainability, and at what level the measurement needs to be carried out at. Professor Martin van Ittersum from Wageningen University posited that the degree to which intensification is sustainable is so dependent on local conditions that there can be no one-size-fits-all policy approach to SI. Farmers and consumers need to be included. Dr. Martijn Gipmans of BASF reiterated the complex nature of the problem and added that metrics and measurements should enable continuous improvement, not be used to exclude individual farmers from markets. Dr. Maria-Luisa Paracchini from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre argued that farmers should not be seen as simply providers of data, and that it was vital that they were able to use the data they helped generate, while Mr. Claudio de Paola of the Lombardy region shared some of his experiences from working on environmental measurement in the SOSTARE project.
Following the panellists’ comments, moderator Matthew Dempsey proceeded to open the floor to the audience, which produced a lively and engaged exchange of opinions. The two hours at the workshop’s disposal flew past in the blink of an eye, leaving a good number of the participants engulfed in discussion as they exited the Square conference centre and faded into the Brussels night. The RISE Foundation takes encouragement from the level of interest generated by the SI project and eagerly anticipates the launch of the full report on June 24th.