Industry research for large-scale sustainability
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The future is regenerative

Dear Readers

The worldwide supply of agricultural goods has rarely been more vulnerable than it is today.
The Russian invasion into Ukraine, as well as the heatwave in India and Pakistan, are a reminder of the enormous challenges facing humanity. India is the second largest wheat producer in the world. Between 1960 and 2009, the average temperature in India increased by half a degree Celsius. This increases the likelihood of heat waves occurring. The situation on agricultural markets, which has been strained by the Ukraine war, will continue to worsen. Prices are rising and the supply situation is deteriorating.

"Last year, 193 million people in 53 countries did not have enough to eat because of the pandemic", writes the SonntagsZeitung, based on the United Nations new Global Report on Food Crises. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) model calculations, hunger is increasing worldwide in the current year. Or, as the journalist Bjorn Lomborg notes in the Wallstreet Journal with reference to the World Bank: "Every 1% hike in food prices tips another 10 million people into global poverty.” Around two billion more people will have to be fed by 2050 in comparison with today. At the same time, however, the climate crisis is threatening crops and the central agricultural resources water, soil and energy are becoming increasingly scarce.

As a megatrend, scarcity of resources dictates the solution to the pending Herculean task. It is as follows: Securing global supply in a sustainable manner while protecting ecosystems. We must be able to increase agricultural productivity while at the same time orienting production in such a way that it does not damage soil, biodiversity or climate. Global agriculture not only suffers from climate change, but also contributes to it. This means that we need both to protect natural resources and to achieve high productivity. At the same time, food must be affordable. So simply going organic globally is not the solution. Syngenta CEO Erik Fyrwald says it clearly in an interview with "NZZ am Sonntag": "Depending on the product, yields in organic farming can be up to 50 percent lower. The indirect consequence is that people in Africa are starving because we eat more and more organic products. No one can seriously want that.”

In other words: the extensification strategy with an ever increasing active promotion of and expansion of organic farming, as currently pursued by the EU and Switzerland, must be questioned from a global perspective. Because the rich countries with fertile soils also have a responsibility to make a substantial contribution to their own food demand. Organic food has a productivity problem and is also damaging to the climate because of its greater land consumption. This is often brushed under the rug by organic farmers, as is the use of pesticides such as copper against fungal diseases or the use of radioactive irradiation in the breeding of varieties used for organic farming.

Urs Niggli, former director of the Research Institute for Organic Farming (FibL), says in the Lebensmittelzeitung: "The easiest way to achieve environmental goals is through the extensification of agriculture. But then we have to import more, which merely shifts the environmental damage. We should not expand our production at the expense of other countries.” And the above-mentioned article from the Wallstreet Journal concludes: "Organic farming is inefficient, requires too much land and is very expensive. Implemented worldwide, it would leave billions hungry." The title of the article sums it up: "Ukraine Crisis Reveals the Folly of Organic Farming."

At the same time, however, global intensive agriculture must also do its ecological homework. Because it consumes 70 percent of the global fresh water. Because in the last 40 years 33 percent of fertile soil has been lost. And finally, because agriculture accounts for 23 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Global agriculture not only suffers from climate change, but also contributes to it. This means: Both the protection of natural resources and high productivity are required. The agriculture of the future must not ignore the consumption of resources or productivity.

This realization has not yet dawned for everyone. For example, exponents of Pro Natura can play down the importance of productivity and claim that calorie production is not relevant, as done recently in the print edition of “Schweizer Bauer”. In many places, the policies also reflect an ignorance and indifference towards a diminishing of productivity, which is reflected in price increases and growing supply shortages. The EU wants to increase the organic share to 25 percent and is thus disregarding the issue of land consumption. But this is increasingly being critically commented on. The fact is: Against the background of the war in Ukraine, it is becoming more difficult to hide the facts about food security and scarcity of supplies.

What we need is productivity and sustainability. Scarce resources require thinking in cycles. Renewable agriculture maintains soil fertility and health in the long term. Erik Fyrwald says the same thing in the "NZZ am Sonntag": "Our vision is renewable agriculture. Today there is a division between conventional and organic farming. Both have their advantages, but none will meet the requirements of the future. The answer is regenerative agriculture. Crop rotation is adopted from organic farming, so that the soil remains healthy. At the same time, crop protection products are used in a targeted manner so that the fields do not have to be plowed and the CO2 remains in the soil. To do this, plants are needed that can withstand extreme weather conditions.” Regenerative (also conservation) agriculture strengthens the soil as a central resource. Regenerative agriculture is knowledge-intensive and requires communication. The Agricultura Regeneratio association, which supports farms (conventional, IP or organic) in Switzerland in regenerative agriculture, has taken up the cause and promotes it.

The circular economy also makes an important contribution to alleviating the conflict of objectives between the environment and productive agriculture. Closing circuits increases productivity. Just as losses in logistics and among consumers (food waste) should not be ignored, so should losses on the field (food loss) not be ignored. There, the targeted use of crop protection products can conserve resources. In fact: "Every year, up to 40 percent of food harvests are lost to plant pests and diseases. This affects both food security and agriculture, the main source of income for vulnerable rural communities," the FAO wrote on International Plant Health Day on May 12, 2022.

Against food waste, techniques of food conservation also help: The longer the shelf life of food, the less chance it will end up as waste. Chemical processes and packaging materials are crucial for the preservation of food. In its online magazine, BASF examines the development of conservation techniques and shows the importance of chemistry in the fight against food waste. Preservatives are an effective means of preventing waste.

The Federal Council recently launched an action plan against food waste. The aim is to halve food waste by 2030 compared to 2017. Almost a third of the food produced for Swiss consumption is wasted and ends up in landfill, the Federal Council writes. The government wants to enter into a cross-industry agreement with companies and organizations in the food sector that sets reduction targets. In its press release, the Federal Council explicitly refers to the war in Ukraine. "The war in Ukraine is exacerbating the problems of global food supply and shows how important it is not to waste food. In addition, food waste also has a negative impact on the environment.” The order of justification in the action plan is noted. The world has indeed changed when measures against food waste are first justified by the disruption of agricultural supply chains. But it hasn't changed if such an action plan simply disregards food loss. Because the fight against food waste begins in the field: Plant protection products reduce food loss on the field. However, they also increase the quality and durability of the products. Longer shelf life increases the likelihood that products are used in the kitchen and do not end up as waste. This is also helped by foodsave's guide, which informs consumers about how long after the date food can still be enjoyed without risk.

Tomato production in the Netherlands is a good example of future agricultural production. A vivid report by the British Telegraph shows how greenhouses can produce more and more fruits with less and less inputs. Every kilogram of tomatoes needs 15 liters of water in the greenhouse, and 60 liters in the field. The saving of resources contrasts with the higher yield. "A field in Spain will yield roughly four kilograms of tomatoes per square meter per growing season," says Ernst van der Ende, professor at Wageningen University. "In a top greenhouse in the Netherlands, that same square metre will produce 80 kilometers of tomatoes". This is 20 times more yield and the use of water, energy and crop protection products is less. This is real resource efficiency. In the future, development is to go even more toward "closed circuits" and "zero waste".

Sometimes the successes can also be found on a small scale. For example, Bayer produces the "Delisher Tomato" under the "De Ruiter" brand. The small plum tomato is also characterized by the fact that the fruits stick very well to the branches. The fruit remains intact after harvesting, is durable longer and requires less packaging material. This is because consumers are increasingly critical of plastic, as well as over-packaging and unnecessary double packaging. A contribution to resource-efficient agriculture and less food waste. A similar trend is being pursued by Syngenta. The award-winning "iStem cauliflower" is the first cauliflower with a completely edible stem. It also promises farmers high yields and convinces consumers with its high fiber content and immune-boosting vitamin C. Also here: A contribution to resource-efficient agriculture and less food waste.

We wish you resource-saving enjoyment

Your swiss-food editor

The swiss-food platform provides information relating to agriculture and nutrition. It is committed to providing factual information and promoting large-scale sustainability.
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