Speech on the occasion of the International Green Week Berlin 2019, Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers’ Union, 17 January 2019
The spoken word remains the authoritative version –
As the new year begins in 2019 one thing is clear: these are uncertain times – politically, economically and where agriculture is concerned. In German politics we are witnessing dramatic change which is affecting practically every party, in both their structure and leadership. The German economy’s boom of recent years seems to have grown weaker.
In international politics some governments are promoting nationalism again instead of multilateral cooperation. New trade conflicts are threatening wealth and business. The European Union is facing the prospect of a hard Brexit, which unfortunately is increasingly likely. And many people are criticising the very core of our society, in France for instance. Europe appears to be paralysed and it seems it can no longer be taken for granted.
At the end of May 2019 European parliamentary elections will be taking place against this backdrop. Numerous achievements which for many farming families have become accepted fact are being called into question by some in the political arena. They include the common agricultural market and the single market in general, the euro and of course the common agricultural policy (CAP).
We at the German Farmers’ Union are committed to Europe. The farmers helped to support, strive for and promote European unity.
In the farming sector we are facing a whole range of challenges. In a global context that means that we continue to ensure food security. The need to act on climate change is becoming evermore urgent, and in agriculture and forestry we need strategies to adapt. According to a weather service report, over the past decades the crop-growing season in Germany has lengthened by 27 days. On the other hand there has been a rise in extreme weather events which are potentially very threatening. We see that there are both opportunities and risks. Agriculture is integral to the solutions of climate change policies: an end to fossil fuels, the switch to a biobased economy, the transition to alternative energies in the transport sector, and a decentralised supply structure for renewable energies are just some examples that spring to mind.
Biodiversity is another concern. This is a responsibility of society as a whole and of existential importance to farming – bees and wild insects are crucial to maintaining biodiversity, upon which we also depend. That is why farmers have accepted their part of the task and taken numerous steps and initiatives to improve biodiversity in farming areas. Others will follow.
Another challenge is the shift in consumer expectations and of society as regards agriculture and food production. The foodstuffs we consume have become a daily topic again. There are many who appreciate products from domestic farming, but who also want to have these products all year round.
Expectations and hopefully the desire to pay more are rising in areas where livestock maintenance and sustainability are a concern. However, it is not enough simply to criticise agriculture and loudly voice one’s expectations while drawing media attention. Our goal must be to convince as many farmers as we can of our aims without ignoring the market. To do that we need economically sound policies and a commitment from the entire marketing chain right through to the consumer.
Thus, in the fields of agriculture and food consumption many tasks lie ahead. Much of it can only be achieved together however, together with farmers, consumers, policymakers and society.
We must secure agricultural production in Germany and ensure and maintain Europe’s high standards and its diverse business structures. A sustainable economics model for open markets requires basic rules to protect the environment, consumers and society’s living standards.
On the one hand we must accept and fulfil the demands placed on us by society, while on the other hand we must necessarily respect those of a forward-looking farming sector.
We must ensure the European Union’s continuing ability to act. For that we need quick budgetary decisions, on financial planning over the years to come. Based on that, individual policymaking can be decided upon, including a common agricultural policy. The CAP must remain a policy cornerstone of open agricultural markets in Europe. A balance must be struck between economic efficiency, competitiveness and the environment for the farming industry.
Rural areas in Germany and Europe need a positive outlook again. First on the list is a nationwide digital infrastructure, and by no means last are financially stable EU agricultural and structural policies. Here too, EU development policies are the key to cohesion in Europe.
We must create opportunities for innovation and development. Farmers want to tread new paths in dealing with climate change and the demands of consumers and society. However, without new technology and innovations that will not be possible. That is why we need an open and frank discussion on new technology in Europe. We must not forego this opportunity to create a farming sector that fulfils the needs of the environment and consumers. And here too the EU must show itself capable of acting, for these decisions cannot be made at national level.
And we must find our way back to engaging with each other. We need to communicate more rather than commenting. And we have to act together. That is what the International Green Week stands for – a platform for dialogue, between consumers and farmers, policymakers and business. High-level events including the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), the Forum on the Future of Rural Development and the Biofuel conference are just some examples. For my part, I cordially invite you to a dialogue with the farmers at the ’Farm Experience’ in Hall 3.2.
I wish you all a successful International Green Week 2019.