Food security or sustainability?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine surprised almost all Western European countries. Who could have imagined that something like this would happen in 2022 in Europe? In newspapers and on the internet, social media, radio and television we are witnessing horrors that we could have hardly imagined for years. Millions of Ukrainians have now fled their country. And in the Netherlands – due to our dependence on Russian gas, oil and coal – we are also feeling the effects of the war, of the sanctions, of rising energy prices and of sudden inflation.
But there is also another effect. Since the invasion began, exports of food and fertiliser from Russia and Ukraine have plummeted. The shelves with sunflower oil in our supermarkets are suddenly empty, and there are major concerns about grain shortages – especially in Africa. The intricate interconnection and interdependence of global trade flows has suddenly become clear. And we now see what can happen if one country becomes isolated and disappears from the chain.
This interconnection and interdependence is also apparent in the transition to more a sustainable agriculture sector: we are not alone in that process either. The choices we make in the Netherlands, such as whether or not to reduce numbers of livestock, also affect trade flows. Due to food security concerns, Copa and Cogeca (the European associations for agriculture and horticulture), are calling for postponement of the Farm-to-Fork strategy and to prioritise food security above sustainability. But is this really necessary? The transition requires so much time – can we afford to delay this process even further?
The economic director of the World Food Programme recently cited research from Wageningen University indicating that there should be no worldwide food shortage for the next six months. In any case, the current situation illustrates very clearly that the global economy is a finely-meshed web that is vulnerable to disruption. Due to environmental and climate concerns, the transition to sustainable agriculture cannot wait any longer. However, the magnitude of the task is becoming increasingly clear, because a new balance in trade flows will also have to be found. And in the end, food security and sustainability have to go hand in hand!