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What scenarios for the future of agriculture?

What are the major challenges facing European agriculture? And how can research help farmers and the wider rural community meet these challenges? These questions were at the heart of a conference on the future of agricultural research held in Brussels on 26 and 27 June.

The starting point of the event was the outcome of a foresight process carried out by the EU's Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR). A Foresight Expert Group, set up in June 2006, developed scenarios based on the factors most likely to disrupt European agriculture over the next 20 years.

In the climate shock scenario, an acceleration of environmental impacts related to climate change seriously disrupts European agriculture.

The second, energy crisis scenario foresees an energy crisis, where Europe's lack of investments in bioenergies leaves it facing severe energy shortages when the oil price skyrockets.

A food crisis scenario envisages a world where global agriculture is faced with the challenge of providing sufficient, safe food for the growing world population.

Finally, a 'cooperation with nature' scenario offers a more optimistic vision of the future, in which society and technology work together to ensure sustainable development at all levels.

The authors of the foresight report note that by 'disruption' they mean fast change, resulting in both positive and negative changes. 'Therefore the main challenge facing agro-food actors is the speed of adaptation and proactive responses to secure a European lead in this area,' they write.

Other speakers at the workshop backed up the foresight group's findings; with most agreeing that climate change in particular would pose major problems for Europe's farmers in the coming decades.

“One of the most important results of the Commission conference is that there is a need for new European research and new technologies, said Christian Patermann, director for ’Biotechnologies, agriculture and food research” at the European Commission in a video news interview, which is part of a regular series published on the CORDIS Knowledge-based bio-economy service. “The efforts to do so are multinational, multidisciplinary, long term, addressing the complexities of agriculture and its survival […] This includes as well the need to communicate complex results to farmers, to forest owners and particularly to young farmers how to use this knowledge, which is the basis for the new bio-economy.”

'We need the same thing as other businesses - access to research results,' said at the Conference Giacomo Ballari, President of the European Council of Young Farmers. 'We need a common platform where researchers and farmers can meet.'

The conference proceedings will be added to the other outcomes of the foresight process, which will feed into a report by the European Commission on the coordination of agricultural research in Europe. The report will be presented to the European Parliament and Council in 2008.

Virginia Mercouri | CORDIS
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