EU, China agree on ag sustainability

June 13, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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BEIJING, June 13 (UPI) -- The European Union and China will address food security and sustainability issues through "a stronger and closer relationship" in agriculture, officials said this week.

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos said Monday in Beijing that the European Union has pledged to build on its existing agricultural relationship with China to "tackle bilateral and international challenges more effectively together."

He and Chinese counterpart Han Changfu signed a cooperation plan on agriculture and rural development Monday, which is meant to give "new impetus" to ongoing efforts between them to improve food security.

The two sides are also working on addressing environmental problems in agriculture as well as sharing "best practices" on sustainability.

"Agriculture is of crucial interest for both China and the European Union," Ciolos said. "This cooperation plan is a new step in our commitment to work together to address common challenges -- in particular food security, rural development, food safety and climate change."

Improving agricultural trade relations between China and the European Union is also among the goals of cooperation plan -- the European Union is the third-largest foreign destination for China's agricultural products. China also counts the European Union as its fifth-largest source of agricultural imports.

The Chinese-EU agricultural market was worth $8.7 billion in 2010.

"Agricultural cooperation between China and the European Commission enjoys remarkable achievements and bright prospects," added Han. "Thus, to promote our bilateral cooperation in the agricultural sector serves our interests of both sides, and represents aspirations shared by China and the European Union."

Ciolos said the new plan will further the work begun in 2005 with the EU-China Dialogue on Agriculture. Under that effort, an "agro-ecological compensation" pilot program was launched in 2009.

In a visit to China last year, the EU leader said agriculture faces multiple challenges in the future, including finding ways keep higher productivity sustainable for the next 50 to 100 years.

"The increase of productivity in this artificial way is showing its limits and the agricultural experts are faced with a challenge today -- how to increase the production to feed a growing population but at the same time regenerating natural resources," he said.

The conflict between ever-increasing food production and sustainability was spotlighted in a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization released last month, which stresses that better governance of agriculture and food systems is the key to making sustainability possible for a projected world population of 9 billion by 2050.

The FAO said agriculture and food systems consume 30 percent of the world's energy, while crop and livestock sectors are responsible for 70 percent of all water withdrawals. In the future, however, farmers will have fewer water and energy resources, meaning they will have to produce more with less.

In response, the United Nations is advocating agricultural techniques that draw on "nature's contribution to agricultural growth," for example, soil organic matter, water flow regulation, pollination and natural predation of pests.

The FAO report calls for a reduction in the massive amounts of waste in traditional agriculture and urges the introduction of "improved crop varieties that are resilient to climate change and use nutrients, water and external inputs more efficiently."

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