Circularity in agricultural production
It is time for all of us to think about the long-term future of agricultural and food production. How can we develop a sustainable food and agriculture that is far better integrated within the world economy at large and meet the new needs of health, environment, climate and affordability?
When Sicco Mansholt started to formulate a European agricultural policy, his primary concern was to ensure that Europe would never again suffer from shortages of food and farmers would have a decent income. The policies implemented to this end were very successful. There has been no deprivation in Europe since, and the continent has gone from importing food to exporting it.
At the same time, these policies had unintended consequences and modern agriculture has in many ways become a victim of its own success. Increased production has come at a high price. Pollution, destruction of soil, emission of greenhouse gasses, poorer animal welfare and, perhaps most perniciously, the erosion of the feeling in society at large that agriculture is an important part of our society. Many people now feel that modern agriculture equals large-scale, heavy on chemicals and engineered (GMO). The concerns of society at large are not translated in ways of doing business.
Policy, science and consumer expectations and farmer practices all point to the same paradigm: optimisation not productivity, for land, animals and energy. Taking on this challenge, we need to reset and take ecology and the carrying capacity as our starting point. This means a paradigm shift towards circularity, as part of a larger bio-based economy.