The European Union Green Deal (EUGD) and its accompanying farm to fork (F2F) strategy have been dominating several discussions in the agricultural community since its presentation just over two years ago, mostly because its objectives, although commendable, are considered by many to be unattainable in practical terms. In addition, the knock-on effect of some of the proposed policies could have a severely negative impact on agriculture and trade in developing countries, who are most at risk when it comes to food security.
The possible impacts of the EUGD on South African agriculture have not been deliberated amongst the various stakeholders in its entirety, and the need for sufficient data in order to understand the practical implications for South Africa became apparent. For this reason, CropLife South Africa initiated a discussion between the crop protection industry, grower groups, academia, and government, to try and understand what the impacts could be, and how South Africa should prepare for it. The discussion took place in the form of a conference held in Cape Town on 24 November 2022 as a hybrid event with in-person and virtual speakers and attendees.
The opening message of the first session was clear: African farmers are on the frontline when it comes to dealing with the impacts of, for instance, climate change, and they have the right to access the innovations and technologies available to address these challenges. In addition, the plant science industry needs a supportive environment to innovate the potential solutions that modern, science-driven farming offers in the fight against climate change and food insecurity.
The presentations that followed showed that the EUGD will certainly have consequences for South Africa, some unintended, however, it will also increase market opportunities for exporters such as South Africa, because compliance with higher EU sustainability standards will lower EU production. Prof. Alan Matthews from the University of Dublin Trinity College noted that these opportunities can only realise if South African exporters are able to meet these same standards. Unfortunately, the lowered production in the EU will contribute to higher global food prices, with potential negative impacts on food-importing developing countries. In addition, EU imports could also result in environmental degradation or pollution or exacerbate social concerns in exporting countries.
Dr Tracy Davids, director, and manager of commodity markets & foresight at BFAP, reiterated that the EUGD and F2F policies will likely relate to additional import demand from the region, resulting in opportunities for South African producers if they can comply with trade regulations. On the other hand, the changes in trade policy could present risks in retaining one of SA’s most important export markets. She noted that the EUGD regulations will impose further technical measures, and that the industry has proven resilient to such measures in the past, but it comes at a significant cost to our producers. For example, the cost of Citrus Black Spot and False Codling Moth control across the value chain was estimated at R3 Billion in 2020 alone.
Rod Bell, CropLife SA CEO concluded the first session by providing a short overview of the regulatory challenges that are specific to South Africa and that contribute to the possible negative impacts of the EUGD. The loss of certain products from the toolbox of plant protection solutions would have a smaller impact if the loss of solutions were mitigated by the introduction of new technologies. Unfortunately, to bring a new plant protection solution to the market in South Africa takes up to 7 years or longer as the current backlog in the office of the Registrar adds an additional three years, perhaps more. He explained that South Africa has unique crop-pest combinations that require molecules not necessary in other parts of the world, and that the country also needs to be attractive for product developers to bring new tools to the market.
The second session of the day focused on other regulatory challenges that could impact South African agriculture, such as the phasing out of substances that meet the GHS classification criteria for group 1A and 1Bs. This is an important aspect in broader scheme of things because the loss of available products exacerbates the risk of farmers trying to find their own solutions or for opportunists to market their products as “safe” alternatives without the scientific backing and efficacy data.
Prof. Andre Jooste from the department of agricultural economics at the University of Stellenbosch illustrated the significant difference between the support that EU farmers receive from government in terms of producer and general services support, versus what South African farmers receive, noting that the EU has 51 times more money per hectare to achieve their policy objectives. He highlighted the time required and development costs to bring a new crop protection product to the market, emphasising that non-optimal regulatory systems will jeopardise investment in new industries and products, ultimately stifling innovation. Another risk is that, because of the high costs involved, the research and development will likely focus on major crops and smaller crops such as berries, nuts and vegetables could be neglected, with no new products being developed and the current available products no longer being suitable for use in export markets. Furthermore, should export farmers lose their competitiveness and the markets for export fruits dry up, farm employment will be negatively impacted. If new technologies do not reach the South African market, food security for the nation could be at serious risk as new pest outbreaks may need new plant protection solutions that might not be available.The full article is for subscribed members only. To view the full article please subscribe. It’s FREE!Log In Register
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