Conclusions from online event “Talk with Gijs Schilthuis, DG AGRI Head of Unit for Policy Perspectives

Conclusions from online event “Talk with Gijs Schilthuis, DG AGRI Head of Unit for Policy Perspectives

‘TALK WITH’ provides a series of webinars on the theme of rural landscapes, but in a broad sense, including other issues beyond agriculture, such as the resilience of systems, adaptation to the climate change, the soil consumption, the city-country relationship, etc.

The invited keynote speakers will be both members of IFLA Europe, as well as personalities, scholars, politicians able to offer to a wide audience visions and interpretative tools of the changes underway and the challenges that await rural landscapes in the coming years, also in view of the new CAP.

The objective of these talks is to enhance the acknowledgement and the awareness of a wide audience about the focus role that Agricultural Landscapes play now and in the next years, facing huge challenges as the climate change, the extinction of species and loss of ecosystems.

In a worldwide webinar debate on the 16 June the future of public intervention in farming and land management and their implications on agricultural landscape across Europe, was discussed. The main guest was Gijs Schilthuis, the Head of Policy development for the Director General of Agriculture of the European Union. The purpose of the event was to applaud the successes of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), debate the unintended consequences and to offer the support of the Landscape Architectural Profession to transform the health of landscapes across Europe.

An introduction to the discussion was set out by Merrick Denton-Thompson, a member of the IFLA Europe Agricultural Landscapes Working Group. He applauded the achievements of the CAP of securing great food for us all and for reducing the risks to the rural economy. He described how the public investment had triggered extensive research to support mono-culture but questioned if the research had been at the expense of all other life forms. He set out the devastating impact that pesticides had on the biodiversity, on microbial health of our soils, on all plants and animals – including invertebrates (insects). He also challenged the application of inorganic fertilizers because of the poisoning of drinking water and the excessive emissions of climate changing gases. He described the revolution within the farming community, many of whom instinctively were
reverting to a Regenerative approach to food production by harnessing the power of nature rather than suppressing it.

In introducing Mr. Schilthuis, he suggested that the challenge facing public investment into agriculture was to restore the health of Natural Capital – soils, air, ecosystems and water quality, building resilience to unpredictable weather events. Pointing out that the way we manage land can not only produce great food but recapture carbon and reverse the effects of climate change in ways that no other industry can. He pointed out that society is demanding multi-functional outcomes from all land and how the Landscape Profession can support the farming community by assisting in expressing the new agenda at a landscape scale to help the industry and to assist farmers in preparing Whole Farm Plans. These plans integrate the food production business needs with the restoration of soil health, the recovery of nature, the sequestration of carbon, the building of resilience and the modernization of access for the health and wellbeing of local people.

Mr. Schilthuis provided a comprehensive response setting out the logistical context he had to manage. He set out the challenges facing the world in food security, the variation in cultures and geographic circumstances, the age profile of the farming community and changes to the sizes of farms. He pointed out that 4% of farms in the EU managed 53% of the land area. He recognized that the loss of mixed farming was significant and then he set out the Farm to Fork-European Green Deal emphasizing the importance of Strategic Plans to deliver Climate change action and preserving Landscape and Biodiversity. He described the challenges facing EU Food Systems to secure a balance across social, environmental and economic sustainability.

He closed his presentation by referencing the European Landscape Convention and welcoming the start of a collaborative relationship with IFLA Europe.

The webinar participants then engaged in a vibrant debate on a range of subjects including the movement from Land Sparing to Land Sharing as a strategy for all land, the importance of family farming, challenging the fact that farming sustainably is at a disadvantage in a market place that does not account for the unintended consequences of intensive systems. Request were made for evidence to be supplied in support of claims made by the speakers. Respondents welcomed the start of the debate and seemed
to relish the challenges we all face to secure sustainably produced food and the building of resilience to European Rural Landscapes.

Recording is available here

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