With global pledges and initiatives to be implemented in the next few years, this week’s back-to-back NATO and European Council summits marked the return of food production as a tool of humanitarian assistance and geopolitical stabilisation.
Though perhaps not topics one would normally expect to see on the menu of an EU summit, agriculture and food have acquired an increasingly strategic status in the EU in light of the Ukraine war.
“Ukraine and Russia together account for one-third of the world’s wheat exports. Therefore, we must avoid a global food crisis and we have to act now,” the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference after the European Council of 24-25 March.
She announced that EU countries will provide €4.5 billion euros until 2024 to help the regions most affected by food insecurity, as well as measures to support agriculture in Ukraine.
The EU leaders also invited the Commission, in coordination with international partners, to prioritise work on global food security and affordability.
“This multilateral work should ensure the efficient functioning of the markets and encourage local production to reduce the risk of food insecurity. The integrity of food supply chains should be preserved,” the summit conclusions read.
This renewed interest is currently more focused on the food availability aspects at the global level rather than on mitigation of food prices in the EU, as the record inflation on foodstuff has not yet reached European consumers.
However, the recent experiences of joint purchase of gas and the revolutionary NextGenerationEU to support the economic recovery after COVID-19 show that should the food affordability deteriorate, there is the possibility of a common response to cope with increased prices.
On the sidelines of the EU summit, an EU diplomat told EURACTIV that the range of investments that could be funded by a common effort has opened up considerably in case of future crises.
US talks and the French FARM initiative
Price hikes and disruptions in the food supply in the aftermath of the Ukraine war were up for discussion in the meeting von der Leyen had with US President Joe Biden.
“We are deeply concerned by how Putin’s war in Ukraine has caused major disruptions to international food and agriculture supply chains and the threat it poses to global food security,” the two said in a joint statement released after the meeting.
The EU and the US, already two of the top providers of humanitarian food and nutrition assistance globally, committed to redoubling their combined efforts to increase global food security and provide direct food aid, where warranted, to their partners worldwide.
This revamped partnership feeling between the Atlantic allies comes after tensions between the European Commission and the US administration caused by the wider implications of the EU’s push on sustainability in farming.
The US will provide over $11 billion (€10 billion) over the next five years to address food security threats and nutrition across the globe, while the EU is pledging at least €2.5 bullion for international cooperation related to nutrition for the period 2021-2024.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new solidarity initiative to mitigate the upcoming food crisis in a press conference after the NATO summit on Thursday (24 March) and after talks with African Union President Macky Sall.
He said the initiative, called FARM (Food & Agriculture Resilience Mission), will be similar to the ACT-A initiative led by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Macron outlined the two pillars of this FARM initiative. First, it will be about developing an emergency stockpile plan in case of a crisis, obtaining a multilateral commitment and transparent monitoring of barriers to trade in agricultural products.
This will be followed by a temporary increase in production targets, a volume allocation mechanism and increased investment in sustainable production chains.
We have to “take responsibility for producing more”, said Macron, insisting that this will be done “while respecting our standards and rules.”
EU leaders gave their nod to FARM in a last-minute addition to the agri-food chapter of the European Council’s conclusion, which says that supporting food security and agriculture in Ukraine and the most exposed third countries will be the initiative’s core objective.
New kid on the block
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi has also jumped on the food security train, pointing out that securing the EU’s food supply has become crucial in the current situation.
“At the NATO summit, energy security and food security were discussed, and in both cases, the answer was: diversification,” he told the press before the EU summit.
The sector’s newfound importance was emphasised this week by EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who placed the sector alongside the likes of energy.
“Agriculture has become a crucial security policy,” the Commissioner said, warning that “Russia has taken itself out of the international game and that has consequences that we need to keep in mind.”
This growing recognition of the sector is reflected in the latest Council conclusions, which stressed the need to prioritise work on global food security and affordability, in particular by supporting food security and agriculture in Ukraine and the most vulnerable and exposed third countries.
EU leaders called on the Commission to take work forward on its communication on rising food prices and global food security. The communication, published on Wednesday (23 March), sets out both short-term measures to safeguard global food security and support EU farmers and consumers.