Foreword from the Chairman Janez Potocnik
Foreword from Janez Potocnik, Chairman of the RISE Foundation
Agriculture in Europe is vital. As an industry it provides essential food, fibre and fuel. It is a major contributor to the economy that supports our rural communities and thereby preserves our cultural heritage, traditions and landscapes. It is also hugely important for our environment, with farmers and foresters managing over 75% of our land use in Europe and an estimated 50% of the species dependent on agricultural habitats.
Yet our current form of agriculture is unsustainable. The previous century of increasing intensification has left a major mark on our environment, leading to growing water and air pollution, biodiversity loss and soil erosion. As an industry it is heavily reliant on non-renewable resources and is dependent on subsides to compete with global imports that are subject to less restrictive conditions. All this in a context where population growth and changing diets are pushing up food demand and agricultural land and production is being threatened by urbanisation and climate change.
It is imperative that any increase in production is from current agriculture land (thereby avoiding further unacceptable destruction of ecosystems) and that it is accompanied by a step reduction in the negative environmental impact. Yet we need to be realistic. If Europe is to develop an agricultural system that is environmentally and socially sustainable, it also needs to be economically sustainable, especially as it is likely that public financing will decrease. A policy reset has become inevitable to uphold the Common Agricultural Policy support in the future.
This is no simple task. To accelerate real workable change we need all the stakeholders in agriculture to come together and work for the common cause. We need to find new ways of doing things, to think outside the box and promote and encourage innovation at the farm, regional, country and European level. We need to ensure that our policies and regulations promote innovative change and to identify the barriers where it thwarts it.
It is not a choice of protecting the environment or economic growth. The two can and must go together. This is why during my time as European Commissioner for the Environment, I pushed for the package on the Circular Economy. By changing the way we produce and consume, we improve our competitiveness in the global economy and can thereby promote growth and create jobs. This is equally essential in the food chain in which we need to reduce waste, improve productivity and close the nutrient loop. After leaving the Commission I am just as passionate about moving Europe away from the traditional linear model in which we have become locked in order to provide opportunities for growth in the future and ensure a more sustainable agricultural system. However, this task cannot be left to politicians and bureaucrats alone and a heavy emphasis should also be placed on supporting private initiatives to carry this vision through.
This way of thinking is very much at the heart of the RISE Foundation’s philosophy. The Foundation has been working since 2006 to bring key stakeholders together to find innovative solutions that promote a sustainable and internationally competitive rural economy across Europe and to preserve the European countryside, its environment and biodiversity, cultural heritage and traditions. It strives to highlight innovative change and develops key evidence based policy and private sector recommendations that aim to address that change. As an entirely independent foundation it is able to work with a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that its recommendations are realistic and inclusive.
I am therefore proud to be the Chairman of a Foundation that strives to find clear practical ways to move European agriculture onto a path that is more environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.