Slow Food: COP26 Addresses Agriculture but Focusses on Bad Solutions

After two days of discussion, the session on “Nature and Land Use”, which included the issue of sustainable agriculture, came to an end today at Cop 26.

Slow Food believes that the very approach to this issue was flawed: talking about sustainable agriculture without considering the food system as a whole is wrong. The proposed solutions that emerged seemed to go in two different and separate directions, presented as complementary: reforestation on the one hand and technological innovation in agriculture on the other.

Yet, it has been demonstrated that the only approach that can effectively contribute to building a truly sustainable food system is that of agroecology: it should be recognized as a central tool to tackle the multiple crises we face, including the climate crisis: agroecology is rooted in rebuilding relationships between agriculture and the environment, and between food systems and society.

We are witnessing the recycling of an old model, which keeps considering food as a series of commodities to be produced on a large scale, with monocultures assisted by futuristic technologies that will make farmers increasingly dependent on large multinational companies and their patents. To shift our global economy to a low carbon model, authorities want to continue following the corporate narrative of high tech, centralised industrialised farming, and fake meat. 

Marta Messa, Director of Slow Food Europe, comments: “One of the events at COP today was about ‘Accelerating a just rural transition to sustainable agriculture’. For us, a just transition must be based on biodiversity, agroecology, and social justice – and not on techno-fixes. Climate change and biodiversity loss must be tackled together, they are closely interlinked problems” And she adds: “Agricultural ecosystems must be restored in harmony with the natural environment. Techno fixes are a false solution, they are not based on the real innovations that communities come up with to be resilient. We want to see by the end of COP26 binding commitments and no empty promises”. 

Shane Holland, Executive Chairman of Slow Food in the UK also comments: “Industrial meat and dairy agriculture are responsible for a huge amount of methane emissions, and intensive farming more generally generates large amounts of carbon”. He adds: “Large groups are proposing industrial farming as the saviour, when they are the cause. There is also some messaging that we need to intensify agriculture to provide an insurance policy against crop failures – this is unacceptable, especially if we consider that to date we waste 30% of food produced for human consumption, a waste that in turn exacerbates the climate crisis. Governments seem unable to escape the influence of multinational corporations and are unable to embrace truly sustainable solutions, which already exist but need to be promoted and supported on a large scale”. 

Jorrit Kiewik, executive director of  Slow Food Youth Network shared his impressions of a COP divided between optimism and distrust. “COP has been an amazing experience. It’s brilliant to be here but there is a lot of doubt. We see two parties: at the pavillon a lot of energy to make a change while at the same time we see a lot of protests outside with Greta Thunberg really gathering a lot of support for anti-COP26 as it’s being claimed as a big greenwashing machine.

Currently, I’m a bit in doubt if this is good progress or not, especially after speaking to some officials who claim that we’re currently at 1.8 degrees which might be very good but still not enough”.

In order to meet climate neutrality by 2050, COP26 should pave the way for the transition towards agroecological food systems, where evidence shows that they keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soil fertility and sustain yields over time, providing a basis for secure farm livelihoods and healthy diets for all.