Berlin - Painting the town green!
On the eve of the annual ‘Wir habe es satt!!’ (‘We are fed up!’) march during Berlin’s International Green Week – when tens of thousands march for a new approach to farming – our Agriculture Policy Officer Thomas Quinn explains why, this year, it is more important than ever to tell the European Commission that we are ‘fed up’ with our broken food and farming system, and that we are, quite literally, hungry for change.
In English, when people say they’re going to ‘paint the town red’, it means they are planning to go out and enjoy themselves. Well, a lot of people plan to enjoy themselves in Berlin this week, but they will be painting the town a different colour – green. Yes, today is the first day of the city’s annual Green Week.
Since its founding in 1926 as a small winter produce exhibition of the German Agricultural Society, Grüne Woche (as they say auf Deutsch), has grown into one of the world’s largest tradeshows for agriculture, food and horticulture. Over the next 10 days, 118,000m2 of exhibition space at the foot of the capital’s famous radio tower, the Funkturm, will host 1,650 exhibitors from 66 countries and some 400,000 expected visitors. While it’s naturally an important date in the diary for food and farming professionals – who use the event to make contacts and get up to date with the latest innovations – it has also become a hugely popular event with the general public. As they meander from stall to stall, visitors can check out new trends in modern farming and gardening, or sample and stock-up on a huge range of regional food products from around the world, while in the Animal Hall, a panoply of pedigree farm animals – cows, pigs, sheep, chickens – is displayed in big open stables.
The event’s public popularity and sector significance draws many political figures to its gates. This year, political undertones will be reverberate far more strongly as the European Commission prepares to scale the policy equivalent of Mount Everest – reform of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), the policy that determines the future of food and farming in Europe. When it was first established in 1962, the CAP played a historic part in helping to feed and rebuild post-war Europe, but it has since become outdated. Today, it is both too expensive (~35% of the entire EU budget) and environmentally damaging, with intensive agricultural practices contributing to climate change, biodiversity loss, soil erosion and water pollution.
The Commission will shortly begin a wide-ranging public opinion consultation on the future of the CAP – a golden opportunity for all of us to have our say. And the man who will pay close attention to the responses is a guest of honour at Berlin Green Week: EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Last September, at the so-called Cork 2.0 conference, Commissioner Hogan invited key agriculture stakeholders – from farming unions and ‘big food’ business to environmental NGOs – to “take stock, to analyse and to develop a common vision for the future of European agriculture and rural communities”. Today, in Berlin, he will hold a ‘town-hall’ style conference on how to take the Cork 2.0 vision ‘From Reflection to Action’.
While Cork 2.0 is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. It’s great to see the Commission in listening mode, and to hear Commissioner Hogan acknowledge that for food production to be sustainable, it must focus on climate action and protect biodiversity and natural resources. However, it is vital that green words are followed by green actions. Big agro-industry is resisting reform, but our current food and farming system is broken and if we are to fix it, we cannot ignore the fact that farmland intensification is driving biodiversity to the brink. Tellingly, farmland birds are the most threatened bird group in Europe, their numbers plummeting by nearly 50% in three decades. Birds are nature’s emergency siren – sharp declines in their numbers does not bode well for other species in these habitats.
"We are with NABU for ‘More Money for Beautiful Fields!’ We are with NABU for ‘Bird-Friendly Farms!’"
Many people, from wide-ranging sections of society, recognise that we are at a historical tipping point, and that big agro-industry needs to give way to sustainable and environmentally friendly farming if we are to safeguard the future of our food. Since 2011, tens of thousands of people have starting marching every Green Week for a more sustainable approach to farming. This year’s march takes place tomorrow. Around 30,000 people from over a hundred groups representing farmers, companies and environmental NGOs – including our German BirdLife partner, NABU – will gather on Potsdamer Platz and will march in vibrant procession, chanting ‘Wir habe es satt!’ (‘We are fed up!). So tomorrow, the whole BirdLife Europe & Central Asia family will behind NABU and they head out and paint the town green! We march with them in spirit and will echo their calls across the internet. We are with NABU for ‘More Money for Beautiful Fields!’ We are with NABU for ‘Bird-Friendly Farms!’ We march with NABU for ‘Nature-friendly farming and food!’ And like NABU, we are ‘fed up’ and hungry for change.
The Commission will launch its CAP consultation on February 2 and it will be open for public responses for three months. Commission Hogan has said that these responses will have a big influence over the new CAP for 2020-2030. This is not an opportunity to be missed. BirdLife will be actively working with its partners and fellow NGOs to share our vision of what the future of food should look like. Over the coming weeks, we will take a closer look at what this means: we will look at how some farmers and businesses have been working with local NGOs to produce delicious and sustainable food products; we will ask ‘what is bird-friendly beef?’; we’ll look at how to best protect our natural resources like water and soil while continuing to feed a hungry planet; we’ll look at how farmers can preserve biodiversity on their land and continue to prosper. So stay tuned and BirdLife will keep you up to date with all the information and links you need to be informed about the food we eat and have your say in its future.
Thomas Quinn is Agriculture Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe & Central Asia.
 Opening Speech by Commissioner Phil Hogan at Cork 2.0 Conference on Rural Development, September 5th 2016, Cork, Ireland.