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25 February 2020

Sowing the future

Possibilities, obstacles and recommendations for a low-carbon and sustainable Hungarian agriculture in times of climate change

by Valentina Delconte and Orsolya Nyárai

The questions sown on the future of agriculture in front of climate change are, no doubt about it, multiple. And every farmer well knows that these problems, just like weed, need to be confronted. Thus, being it time to dig deeper on the existing barriers to cut down agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to implement effective farming solutions, CEEweb for Biodiversity recently organised the 2nd National Workshop “Agriculture and climate change: Potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.”

At its core was the discussion on creating a resilient agricultural sector in order to address the compelling necessity of assisting farmers in the adaption to a changing climate. Part of the project ‘An unavoidable step after Paris: cutting emissions from farming,’ funded by the European Climate Initiative (EUKI), the workshop’s theme was framed on the integration of climate, trade and agricultural policies into common solutions. And when it came to present those solutions to the over-50 stakeholders who attended the event, a plenty: from mitigating the effects of climate change to the creation of resilient farms.

Timber!

Just as a lumberjack calls when a tree is about to fall down after hard work, we are now also seeing how the work done in research and practice on agroforestry is finally bringing its fruits. The combination of agriculture and forestry (i.e. agroforestry) is widely recognized as a sustainable land management scheme capable of mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. Not only that, but it also supports biodiversity and enhances the functionality of agro-ecosystems. A fertile ground to cultivate on, indeed. But, then, what’s preventing agroecology to root into European farms?

As Dr Andrea Vityi (Sopron University) and Dr Zsolt Hetesi (National University of Public Service) pointed out during the workshop, stronger policy instruments and funding opportunities are essential to sustain the agroecological transition and achieve their full potential.

Dr Andrea Vityi (University of Sopron): “If done well, an agroecological transition is possible, but policy instruments and funding opportunities need to catch up to help it achieve its full potential.”

On the healthy soils theme, Mr Zoltán Hajdu (Soltub Ltd.) described how an adequate management of soil nutrients in livestock farms could potentially reduce agricultural GHG emissions — especially when designing proper manure and soil cultivation management. And as the fruits of research are ripening, it is also time to build a sound legislation to further disseminate these practices: Nutri2Cycle, the national nutrient management working group funded by the EU Horizon 2020 in Hungary, has been set for this purpose and was presented to various stakeholder groups during the workshop.

“Soil health is a national capital that should not be privatized,” Mr Hajdu indicated, emphasizing that fertile, healthy soils are the ground for a sustainable and low-emission agriculture.

Lessons from the field(s)

Dr Zsolt Hetesi (National University of Public Service) in his presentation via Skype stated that agroecological practices, cover crops, reduced tillage, soil conservation, a holistic approach and supporting policies are key and can lead to a win-win situation for the agriculture of the future.

According to FAO, livestock is responsible for 14,5% of human-induced GHG emissions, thus playing a big role in climate change. To tackle this, an innovative branch of research is now focusing on the potential of insect-based proteins as a sustainable livestock feed alternative to cut down carbon dioxide emissions originated from the expansion of feed crops and pasture into natural habitats, feed processing and transport. Most certainly, the promotion of this new diet requires effective legislation on EU and national levels.

During the workshop it was discussed that, as field research and practices are quickly tilling the ground to find solutions, decision-makers must run along to adapt agricultural policies to the current needs. In representation of the policy sector was Dr Anikó Juhász, the Deputy State Secretary for Agricultural Economy at the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture, who navigated through the environmental and climate targets within the forthcoming European CAP post-2020.

The deep-rooted relation between agriculture and climate change has received increased attention in Hungary in recent months, including multi-stakeholder participation to the round-table discussion on the agro-environmental and climate protection aspects of the new EU agricultural policy. As a result, the Hungarian Strategic Plan on Rural Development will contain new climate-friendly measures, mostly related to afforestation and technological modernization in the agricultural sector, and increased funding schemes to reduce emissions from agriculture, food production and food waste. All of it going in line with what Hungary’s Minister of Agriculture, Dr István Nagy, had already announced back in 2019.

Hands on the forks

Attendants to the workshop were engaged in an interactive session to discuss the possibilities, obstacles and recommendations for a low-carbon national and EU agricultural sector. Gaps in legislation, harmful subsidies and beneficial agricultural practices insufficiently funded were among the most common observations. While there are more and more events and opportunities to discuss issues related to agriculture and climate change, several participants shared their experience of always meeting the same people on these occasions, highlighting the necessity to export the discussion to new stakeholder groups.

Working on policy recommendations, the project ‘An unavoidable step after Paris: Cutting emissions from farming’ provided through the workshop valuable directions for the future of the farming sector, highlighting the need to sow the seeds of agroecology, soil health, nutrient management on agricultural lands, and biodiversity promotion and protection across national and EU agricultural policies

Clearly, involving sectoral representatives and decision-makers in larger numbers in these constructive discussions will be crucial to create effective legislation that can shape the future of agriculture in times of climatic changes and uncertainties. And so, the workshop helped plant a truly low-carbon, sustainable EU and national agriculture vision by providing access to the most up-to-date progress towards a new 7-year Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Care to dig deeper? Read our recommendations on the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy and climate policies.