Innovation for a Sustainable Agriculture & Food System

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On May 23-24, 2023, Re-Imagine Europa organised the Global Conference on Sustainability in Agriculture & Food Systems: Innovation, Indicators and Implementation together with partners ALLEA (European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities), European Food Forum, European Sustainable Agriculture through Genome Editing (EU-SAGE), and the Institute of Agroecology, supported by the conference’s main sponsor Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 


More than one hundred academics, industry experts, policymakers and representatives from farmers and civil society organisations gathered in Brussels to analyse sustainability in the agriculture and food system across a range of countries and regions.  

The conference’s main purpose was to bring together key stakeholders from around the world  (see the complete list of the speakers here) to analyse established sustainability concepts and innovative approaches in agriculture and food systems, and to identify indicators that can demonstrate the sustainability of a specific system or innovative application. You can find the final version of the two-day programme here 

The event builds on the work developed by RIE’s Task Force on Sustainable Food Systems and Innovation over the last two years to go beyond the existing polarisation in the public discussion about agriculture, sustainability and innovation, break the vicious cycle of mistrust, and focus on common values to facilitate a constructive debate about how to achieve these ambitious goals. Finding these shared values and solutions is especially crucial ahead of the upcoming EU’s regulation for New Genomic Techniques and the Sustainable Food System (SFS) Legislative Framework. 

Under the leadership of Peter Kerns, Director for PLANET at Re-Imagine Europa, the Task Force has organized other relevant events as  Genome Editing Beyond the EU – A Global Conversation, which featured an interesting intervention by prominent geneticist Professor Jennifer Doudna and the Experts Works on Regulatory Approaches to Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture 


Farmers at the centre 

After the introductory remarks delivered by the Chair, Dr Francois Pythoud, Former Ambassador of Switzerland to FAO, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Janusz Wojciechowski, delivered the opening keynote. Commissioner Wojciechowski focused on the Global and European Drivers for Sustainability in Agriculture and the necessity to put farmers at the heart of solutions, with stronger incentives, more strategic policy implementation, and smarter innovations to achieve greater sustainability. In his introductory keynote speech, he stated: 

“When debating sustainable food systems, we cannot only look after ourselves, we must look after each other. To drive sustainability in the European agricultural system, we cannot focus on the problems but focus on the solutions, and farmers need to be put at the centre of our solutions.” 

The first day of the Global Conference on Sustainability in Agriculture & Food Systems closed with a panel discussion on the International Context of Sustainability in Agriculture & Food Systems, Chaired by Garlich von Essen, Secretary-General of Euroseeds. On the eve of the first day, a cocktail reception and a dinner at the European Parliament were hosted by Mr Norbert Lins, MEP and Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. 

The second and last day started with an introduction by Ms Irène Tolleret, Member of the European Parliament and Founder and Chair of the European Food Forum. Ms Tolleret opened the session with a very insightful intervention on the necessity of trusting science for sustainable food systems and of providing a clear framework that includes innovation: “Agriculture in the future must also be profitable for the farmers. The Farm to Fork Strategy will not succeed if it is not profitable.” 

In the next sessions, participants could hear from experts on how new technologies in agriculture and food systems are being debated, regulated, and applied worldwide, from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands to Argentina and Southeast Asia. The three sessions of day two introduced different emphases on the policy, ecology and economic considerations, and were closed by a panel that featured all the speakers of the day.  

During the closing remarks, the Conference’s Chair, Dr Francois Pythoud, recognised the complexity of the topic and highlighted how broad, complete, and open the discussions of both days were.  

In her final greeting, Erika Staël von Holstein, Chief Executive at Re-Imagine Europa, remarked on the importance of using all the tools at our disposal to reshape our food systems: “We must not focus on our differences, and instead focus on the common problems and find common ground. We need to prepare the soil, so that when the time comes to plant the seeds, we will be ready to seize the opportunity.” 

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