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The Farm to Fork strategy and its consequences for the rice market

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The Farm to Fork strategy is an initiative officially announced by the European Commission as part of the Green Deal to promote economic growth through combating climate change.  

The aim of the Green Deal is to make the European Union climate neutral by 2030, through achieving ongoing environmental, social and economic sustainability.

A series of actions are planned to bring this to fruition. These include promoting renewable energy, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, promoting sustainable mobility and encouraging sustainable production, with the goal of reducing pesticide use by 50% and boosting organic farming.

Farm to Fork focuses on the latter: this strategy is designed to tackle the problems that can arise in connection with the production, transport and consumption of food.

Features and objectives of Farm to Fork

The Farm to Fork initiative, also referred to as F2F, was officially presented for the first time by the European Commission on 20 May 2020. It is designed as a 10-year plan to transform the European food system into one that is healthy, fair and sustainable.

If the European Union’s plan materialises, Europe could become the first climate-neutral continent. With this in mind, the agri-food sector is of utmost importance.

This not only impacts agricultural production, but also creates a real link between people, society and the planet. In fact, the Green Deal is about improving the health and wellbeing of people as well as the planet. That is why it also includes a focus on ensuring a fair transition, to support workers and communities that might be affected by the ecological transition.

The relationship between people, society and the planet is also reinforced through a fair relationship with food and its production: sustainable food production also leads to healthier food.

The shaping of a common food policy would allow Europe to position itself as a global benchmark for food standards, keeping in mind that this continent’s agricultural sector is the only one to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20% since 1990.

What Farm to Fork entails

The European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy includes a wide range of measures aimed at boosting the sustainability of the European food system and improving its citizens’ health.

Some of the main measures in the Farm to Fork strategy involve:

  • Reducing the use and impact of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030.

  • Increasing the agricultural area under organic cultivation by 25% by 2030.

  • Reducing the use of antibiotics in farm animals by 50% by 2030.

  • Promoting healthy and sustainable diets, with a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables and a reduction in red meat and products high in sugar, fat and salt.

  • Introducing mandatory, consumer-friendly, understandable and evidence-based nutrition labelling.

  • Reducing food waste by 50% by 2030.

  • Encouraging sustainable agricultural techniques, such as precision farming, agroforestry, crop rotation, urban and peri-urban agriculture, conservation agriculture and the use of direct sowing.

  • Developing a resilient food system that promotes biological diversity, food security and tackling climate change.

  • Creating financial incentives to promote the sustainability of the food system, such as tax relief for companies that adopt sustainable practices or subsidies for producers of organic crops or food with a low environmental impact.

  • Reducing the environmental impact of food production by implementing clean production techniques, recovering nutrients and recycling organic waste.


How the Farm to Fork strategy impacts rice cultivation

The experts believe that the main consequences of the Farm to Fork strategy relate to agricultural crop yields, which are likely to decrease.

A study commissioned by CropLife Europe and CropLife International, carried out by Wageningen University & Research, analysed the potential consequences for agriculture caused by the implementation of the F2F strategy.

The research explored four scenarios involving reduced pesticide use, reduced nutrient losses, increased organic production and land with high landscape diversity.

25 case studies in 7 countries, and 10 crops were analysed. It was found that targets for reducing pesticide use and nutrient losses can have a major influence on the yield levels of crops, in particular perennial crops such as grapes, apples, olives and citrus fruits.

The target of using 25% of the cultivated agricultural area for organic production could lead to a decrease in production and an increase in prices, but it could also decrease the use of plant protection products and nutrient losses.

The final scenario, which combines the objectives of the previous scenarios with using land with high landscape diversity, could lead to a decrease in average production of between 10% and 20%, with a more pronounced reduction in production volumes for perennial crops. This could trigger an increase in commodity prices and a significant change in international trade.

With regard to rice, the reduction in production could be of particular importance; this would not only lead to a significant rise in prices but, because of an ongoing increase in demand, imports from other countries, especially those in the East, would increase.

Those working in the industry are well aware that halving the use of herbicides can cause serious problems, as such a drastic reduction in use would make them largely ineffective at combatting weeds.

Although rice growers have already significantly reduced the use of chemical herbicides and introduced manual techniques, a further restriction could become more problematic, as European countries would suffer from unfair competition with other countries that do not have as strict and vigilant legislation.

In the United States, for example, 11 more herbicides are permitted than in Europe. This is also the case in Vietnam (10 more), China (14 more) and India (9 more). This is compounded by the fact that in many Asian countries there are still rice-pickers who are still underpaid. All this implies that the costs for clearing weeds in Europe are considerably higher. In fact, it is estimated that human weed control in Asian regions costs around €200 per hectare, whereas herbicide weed control in Europe costs about twice as much.

At the moment, the European Union’s guidelines have not yet been passed into law, although it would appear that this may happen in September of this year. In the lead-up to this date, the associations of the various categories are working on voicing the concerns of farmers, so that all factors that the various scientific studies have so far brought to light are taken into account.