A just transition to ensure a sustainable future for the EU agri-food systems

Practical information

  1. Composition of the Study group and timeline
  2. Administrators / Assistant in charge: Myrto KOLYVA, Judit CARRERAS GARCIA / Lukáš ĎURECH
  3. Contact

Background

There is an increasing awareness of the need to transform how food is produced, processed and consumed to ensure sustainable food production, support the farming community and maintain the health of both people and the planet.

There is a growing consensus on the need to transform the agri-food system to achieve both the global goal of adaptation and the collective temperature goal under the Paris Agreement. In this regard, the latest IPCC report was particularly attentive to how food systems are increasingly vulnerable to climate change but are also contributing to it. Still, there is a lack of a coherent and comprehensive approach to climate, agriculture and food and a lack of understanding of the social dimension and its implications. Despite this, farmers and food chain workers will be bearing the brunt of a lot of changes to protect the food system and implement the changes. The impacts of climate change will affect them terribly - droughts, floods, wildfires and heatwaves that destroy crops and reduce harvests. In addition, the number of farms in the EU is constantly decreasing (25% fewer in 2022 than in 2010), generational renewal of farmers is a big challenge, farmers' mental health is under great pressure and their social acceptance in society needs to be improved.

Getting the complete picture of the social implications of the transformations towards climate-resilient agri-food requires simultaneously addressing several challenges the sector is already confronted with, for example persuading more young people to begin farming is a significant challenge. Farmers under 40 only manage 11% of all European Union (EU) farm holdings, of which female young farmers represent only 3%. Other challenges faced are to ensure that farmgate prices stay above the costs of production, that there is a fair food supply chain with fair prices, and that healthy and sustainable diets become relatively more affordable and available, as farmers systematically shoulder risks while retaining a low share of the value added to the food system. Or addressing the occupational health hazards. Farmers and those involved in the wider agricultural industry have a high suicide rate.

Given the scale of agricultural transition now needed in Europe, the social dimension of the sector merits a more prominent place in the political dialogue. Academic researchers, non-governmental organisations and some farmers' groups have started to reflect to envision a "just transition" for agriculture; however, the term has not yet entered the mainstream in EU agriculture.

With this proposal for an own-initiative opinion on a just transition in agri-food systems, the EESC wants to contribute to reflections on the foundations of a just transition framework on the agri-food sector to achieve a sustainable food system and move forward with concrete recommendations, for example, looking at the skills, capacity and mental support needed, or identifying some key policy areas and legal leverage points that could be triggered to start a just food transition for the EU.