You organized a debate on the future of agriculture in February at the Annual General Meeting of Euralis, the largest food industry cooperative in the Southwest of France. What were the results ?
The idea behind the debate was to confront different visions of the future of agriculture. In between the two extremes, agriculture according to José Bové (who canceled at the last minute) and the very liberal agriculture of the WTO promoted by Pascal Lamy, I am convinced that society will finally give farmers the place they deserve in spite of strong differences in opinion.
But I was, once again, struck by the absence of concrete proposals from the personalities present who, in the end, only expressed defeatist attitudes (agriculture is all washed up!), criticism, or worse, a totally false vision of the stakes involved, which was translated by blind optimism (don’t worry, you have everything to gain!)
I don’t know how our leaders have come to lose their common sense and why they suffer from such shortsightedness when it comes to understanding the importance of agriculture for our societies.
One of the main themes being explored is the perverse effects caused by agricultural subsidies. Without questioning their usefulness the way things stand today, I can assure you that we would all prefer to earn a living form the sale of our products and not have a system that distorts a market whose true vocation is to allow for the efficient distribution of resources.
These subsidies, which only the rich countries can afford, are not sustainable for the less advanced countries or even for the future of world agriculture. Indeed, they fuel a downward spiral of prices which is the harbinger of bleak future!
Faced with this situation, it is high time, as Jean-François Kahn1 explains, to “remodel the future”. And even if the farmers have long been eager for more action and less words, we have spent years locked in an ideological discourse that has had only one “goal”, that of accusing and destroying.
I note, however, with a certain hopefulness, that certain so-called liberal economists are starting to discretely envisage the need for regulation. I am also starting to see people refuse the determinist discourse according to which agriculture is doomed! It is true that we are in a difficult situation and we suffer, but other directions are possible. It is our duty to explore them in order to prevent the current model from getting out of control and leading us to a violent fall!
Times are hard, but for pity’s sake, let us not forget that agriculture has a future! The investment funds have understood this: more and more often they are proposing financial products exclusively made up of agricultural securities to investors!
I would like to call to your attention the fact that this future is conditioned by innovation, of course, in response to the challenges in terms of food and energy, but also in terms of sustainable agricultural development. Science is exploring different avenues, notably biotechnologies, so that agriculture will use less water, so that it will continue to protect the environment through biofuels, biodegradable plastic bags…
This topic is generally difficult to bring up because we are accused of bad intentions before we can even explain. You know, when we accuse farmers of depleting the soil, you must be aware of the fact that, except for certain practices that are rapidly disappearing, the farmer loves his land and enriches it. Why would a farmer “kill” his land when that is where his produce comes from? It would be totally absurd economically and insane from a human point view.
One example: I carry out analyses of my soil every three years and I can assure you that the percentage of organic material, which is its intrinsic quality, regularly increases.
I cannot say that the situation is perfect. Certain practices must evolve! But it is time to put an end to clichés and recognize that a farmer respects his land!
You often say that the planet needs all the farmers of the world. Why ?
Contrary to common beliefs, current agricultural production is insufficient to feed all the earth’s inhabitants. This production, which must also meet our needs in terms of energy, needs to increase at the same rate as demographic growth and world prosperity.
Agricultural products are going to become raw materials that are more and more in demand!
What should we think when our leaders say that it is no longer necessary to ensure food sovereignty for Europe? How can we accept the famous theory of “comparative advantage” when the very principle of precaution may be flouted tomorrow in the name of ideological concepts that are not applicable to the specific and strategic sector which is agriculture!
Each state should preserve a minimum of food sovereignty because agriculture is closely linked to life on earth!
How can we accept decisions that would cause certain countries to be dependant on others for their food supply! Well, this is the major risk that the current WTO negotiations are leading us to!
The example of energy dependence should convince us that nothing good can come of such a situation, only strategic imbalances and conflicts !
Why do you place the accent on the problems facing African agriculture ?
The populations of Africa are the first to suffer from the liberalization of agricultural trade. Europe is lucky enough to be rich and to be able to help these farmers, but for how long? On the other hand, the ravages of liberalization without regulation have a direct impact on the African continent!
Our history, our geographic proximity and our geopolitical community oblige us to react to build a system that will allow them to protect their farms !
You are a founding member of WOAgri. What are your expectations for the movement ?
Simply, I hope that this movement can restore the common sense of our leaders!
The economic models which are the basis of current international negotiations are, indeed, totally inappropriate and therefore useless and this is recognized by more and more leaders! But, unfortunately, nobody is trying to stop the machine because many leaders, notably those that have a vested interest, are convinced there is nothing better!
That is why we are building a specific economic model for agriculture that integrates the parameters that need to be taken into account to implement sustainable policies for world agriculture: the effects on poverty, climatic risks, the link between the equilibrium of markets and the environment, growth and the loss of know-how, innovation, dependence on foreign countries and risks in terms of abandoning food sovereignty, sustainable development and the future of the planet.
This enumeration may seem like a mantra, but our team of economists is creating a model founded on the principles of game theory (also referred to as decision theory) that is absolutely revolutionary!
Personalities from the world of agriculture, but also from outside the world of agriculture, finally dare to say that another way is possible, beyond all political and ideological factions, and that we need to create reliable tools to serve this ambition.
Today we are prisoners of numerous ideological visions and false solutions. WOAgri wants to “place the ball at the center of the court” and open up to new ways of thinking that place mankind, that is to say the future of humanity, at the heart of international negotiations !
1 « Comme deux frères – Mémoires et visions croisées », by Axel Kahn and Jean-François Kahn, Edited by Stock, March 2006.