Like “squaring a circle”

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Recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Agriculture Like “squaring a circle”

The Commission on the Future of Agriculture set up in July 2020 handed over its final report to the Federal Chancellor today. It contained “groundbreaking and useful stimuli”, said Merkel, and would provide a sound basis for decision-making. A reliable framework was needed for the transformation process to succeed, she said.

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The Chairman of the Commission on the Future of Agriculture, Peter Strohschneider, and Federal Chancellor Merkel, with the members of the Commission behind them on a screen, in attendance via link.

The Chairman of the Commission on the Future of Agriculture, Peter Strohschneider (r.), handed over the final report to Federal Chancellor Merkel today.

Photo: Federal Government/Bergmann

A transformation in agriculture is needed towards increased climate protection, environmental conservation and animal welfare – a task that faces society as a whole. As part of this process, ecological action needed to be translated into economic success and receive the appropriate financial support, said Angela Merkel. This is the core message contained in the final report of the Commission on the Future of Agriculture, which was handed over to the Federal Chancellor today. 

The positions seemed incompatible

The task of the Commission was “like squaring a circle”, said Merkel. After a period of about a year and some 100 meetings, members were able to agree on joint recommendations. “Many positions seemed incompatible at first sight,” said Merkel, so the unanimous adoption of the report was “itself a major accomplishment.”

The Commission had addressed an “emotionally charged and conflict-laden area of agricultural, environmental and social policy,” she said. As such, the members of the Commission were particularly deserving of thanks for their commitment and for having “embarked on such an adventure.” The report was handed over to Merkel by the chair of the Commission, Peter Strohschneider.

Significant day for agriculture

The presentation of the final report was a “significant day in the history of agriculture in Germany”, Merkel said, adding that it would be indispensable to future policy-makers. She said it provided answers to what is ecologically appropriate and reasonable on each side – not least with regard to consumption and dietary behaviour. It also established a time frame, she noted.

The pressure to adopt the report based on consensus had had “a constructive impact”, said Merkel. The foundation for this had been laid by the willingness of the Commission members “to see the world through the eyes of others”. “In order to achieve greater sustainability, we need a comprehensive transformation process that has to be vigorously pursued – and this will not be possible without additional funding,” Merkel stressed.

The Federal Minister of Agriculture emphasised: “The final report is similar in focus to my own policies: we’re already consistently advancing the transformation process in agriculture in the way the report proposes. On all the essential points, the Commission supports the path I have opted for.”

Recommendations beyond “day-to-day operations”

Domestic agriculture is of fundamental importance to society, yet agriculture and rural areas are having to face up to structural and economic changes, some of which are far-reaching. In concrete terms, the aim is to combine climate and environmental protection with food security and the preservation of economically viable agriculture in Germany. For this reason, the independent expert commission chaired by Peter Strohschneider was briefed to go beyond day-to-day operations and develop long-term recommendations and guidelines to transform agriculture and the food system.

Key findings of the final report

The Commission stresses that the necessary change requires adequate financial support – not least based on step-by-step changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). According to the report, the transformation process is a task facing society as a whole. It identifies not just objectives and guidelines but also potential courses of action. Among other things, recommendations are put forward for

  • increased efforts to boost climate and environmental protection, not least by expanding agricultural greenhouse gas sinks (peatlands and humus), creating stable agro-ecosystems and establishing regional economic and agricultural nutrient cycles.
  • reducing the consumption of animal products, improving animal welfare and achieving a more environmentally sound spatial distribution of animal husbandry (including further reduction in livestock numbers if necessary).
  • increasing the market transparency of agricultural products by such means as labelling and certificates.
  • promoting different farm business models as well as regional and direct marketing channels.
  • fair structuring of customer-supplier relationships between agriculture and downstream sectors (e.g. mills, dairies and sugar factories) as well as retail.
  • targeted state funding to help agriculture meet the demands of society. This includes restructuring the direct land-based payments under the first pillar of the CAP – Common Agricultural Policy in the course of the next two funding periods (by 2034 at the latest).
  • planning security for farms, for example in terms of investments.

Transformation process will incur costs

The Commission points out that the upcoming transformation process will result in higher production costs and food prices, exceeding the existing financial framework of the public budget. So in addition to increased public funding, the extra costs would have to be covered by the markets, too. The resulting hardships would have to be cushioned by social compensation for lower-income households.

According to the Commission, however, the projected annual economic cost of a radical transformation of agriculture would be far less than the environmental and health costs involved in continuing with the status quo unchanged. In the opinion of the Commission on the Future of Agriculture, a restructuring has the potential to bring about a fair distribution of the burden within society while achieving savings for the economy overall.

The Commission on the Future of Agriculture was made up of more than 30 representatives from the fields of agriculture, business, consumer organisations, the environment, animal welfare and academia. The establishment of the Commission was a key outcome of the dialogue on agriculture initiated by the Federal Government at the end of 2019.