Challenging sustainability in the food system – an Irish perspective
Raymond Kelly är chef för forskningsstöd på Irlands myndighet för utveckling av livsmedels- och lantbrukssektorn, Teagasc. Han är en av huvudtalarna på Livsmedelsforskningsdagen 6 april 2022.
The three most pressing challenges in a global perspective?
I think that the three most pressing challenges are environmental sustainability of the food system, food and nutrition security and the economic sustainability of food production.
Under current proposals, the agricultural sector will have to curb emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. Carbon removals will need to increase to -310 Mt of CO2 equivalents by 2030 from current annual removals of around -268 Mt and the combined land use, forestry and agriculture sector must reach climate-neutrality by 2035 at EU level.
Meanwhile, 33 million people in the EU cannot afford a quality meal every second day and over half of the adult population are now overweight. With all of the changes that are needed it is important to ensure that primary producers get a fair price for their product so that farming remains an attractive option for the next generation.
How to meet the challenges in the food sector caused by the war in Ukraine?
For me, the effects of the war bring up lots of questions where we don’t have all the answers yet.
For example, it clearly highlights the areas of food- and energy-security for Europe. But how can we ensure that, in addressing EU food security, we do not end up cutting Ukraine out of our supply chain? If we ensure our own food security at the expense of trade with Ukraine we will have punished them for an event in which they are entirely innocent. Reducing dependency on Russian energy is more clear-cut, but from the agriculture side, we have to avoid competition between food and fuel production. These are complex questions and, as ever, more research will be needed.
We also need to look to the aftermath of the war and what contribution the research community can make to rebuilding Ukraine. For me, I think that European funding organisations, universities and research organisations can play an important role post-war in contributing expertise and know-how to help rebuild the agri-food research community in Ukraine. It will be important to do that from the position of equal peers and not in a paternalistic fashion.
What does research and innovation mean to the development of a sustainable society?
Thinking about some of the features we would want in a sustainable society, they include maintenance of the planet as a hospitable place for human existence, reduction of inequality both within our societies and across the planet, and vibrant rural communities. Food and agriculture research and innovation are central to all of these.
Access to safe, healthy, nutritious food at affordable prices is key to ensuring that children have the opportunity to grow and develop to their potential, thereby giving them the opportunity to rise from poverty and setting them up for healthy future lives. Agriculture is responsible for 10% of GHG emissions across the EU and intensive agriculture is associated with biodiversity loss.
On the other hand, farmers are custodians of the land, with agriculture production taking place on 39% of EU land and so there is huge potential for reductions in emissions, sequestration of carbon in soil and improved biodiversity from the agri-food sector.
Research and innovation is vital in order to ensure that this can happen while still maintaining food and nutrition security. Rural development is key to the economic, social and environmental viability of nations, acting as an important counterpoint to increasing urbanisation. The UN has identified rural development as essential for poverty eradication since global poverty is overwhelmingly rural. Agriculture and food production is often the main source of income in rural communities.
A strong agriculture and food sector, underpinned by research and innovation can help to fuel rural development.
The most important impact from agri-food research in Ireland over the past five years?
One of the most important impacts from agri-food research in Ireland has been the use of genomic technologies in animal breeding programmes which has achieved the dual objective of improving profitability and environmental sustainability.
In the dairy sector alone, the use of the economic breeding index has been worth €7.2 billion to the Irish dairy sector and has resulted in a 14% improvement in carbon efficiency/kg of milk solids.
Five words when you think of Swedish food?
Fish, Dairy, Berries, Organic, Safe.