EPRSLibrary By / September 4, 2012

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture has been defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production that will last over the long…

Copyright by Elena Elisseeva. Imaged used under Shutterstock licence
EU sustainable agriculture
Copyright by Elena Elisseeva. Imaged used under Shutterstock licence

Sustainable agriculture has been defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production that will last over the long time, satisfy human food needs, enhance natural resources, use efficiently of non-renewable resources, sustain economic viability of farms and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. It is the practice of farming using principles which respect ecology and save natural resources.

EU vision on sustainable agriculture should increase the productivity without affecting the quality of soil and water, preserve  the ecosystems, safeguard animal welfare, generate income for farms and improve quality of life in rural areas, support territorial development and contribute to economy. It requires increased investments, sharing knowledge,  innovation and technologies. Sustainable agriculture can  contribute to food security and fighting poverty.  Agriculture accounts to about  65% of the jobs in developing countries.  

Sustainable management of natural resources and climate action is one of the core objectives proposed for the CAP for the period 2014-2020 (see COM/2010/0672 final), alongside with viable food production and balanced territorial development in line with the objectives of the EU2020 Strategy.


Agriculture the way towards sustainability and inclusiveness G20/Rio de Janeiro 21 June 2012: Dacian Cioloş European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Europe’s path towards sustainable agriculture DG AGRI/DG DEVCO side event / SPEECH/12/480, 21/6/2012.
In his speech Dacian Ciolos describes the European Union vision on sustainable agriculture as a right balance between economic viability, environmental benefits and social acceptability. Sustainable farming should aim at:

  • Increasing productivity without affecting the capacity of soil and water to regenerate and to be maintained in good condition
  • producing high quality, safe, healthy food
  • generating enough income for farms to keep them going
  • delivering ecosystem services (preserve valuable habitats, biodiversity, genes)
  • improving quality of life in rural areas
  • strengthening the economy
  • contributing to a balanced territorial development ensuring animal welfare

Sustainable agriculture for the future we want / European Union, DG AGRI/ DG Development and Cooperation (EuropeAid), 2012, 8p.

In order to feed 2 billion more people by 2050, and as climate change contributes to depleting land and water resources, we will have to produce more food with fewer resources. Sustainable agriculture will help to face today’s challenges, both in Europe and in the world as a whole. The European Union is developing its Common Agricultural Policy in ways, which are believed are good for Europe and for the world. Te Eu is in important actor in promoting sustainable agriculture on the international development agent and advocates economically, ecologically and socially sustainaable agriculture in its development cooperation policy.

The European Commission’s  proposals for a reform of the CAP after 2013 aim to strengthen the competitiveness and the sustainability of agriculture and maintain its presence in all regions, in order to guarantee European citizens healthy and quality food production, to preserve the environment and to help develop rural areas.


Achieving food security in the face of climate change. Final report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change / Beddington J, Asaduzzaman M, Clark M, Fernandez A, Guillou M, Jahn M, Erda L, Mamo T, Van Bo N, Nobre CA, Scholes R, Sharma R, Wakhungu J., CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). 2012, p. 59.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Changeundertook a synthesis of major assessment reports  to clearly articulate scientific findings on the potential impact of climate change on agriculture and food security globally and regionally and to identify the most appropriate actions and pathways to achieve food security in the context of climate change. The main messages include amongst others: 1. integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies, 2. significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade, 3. sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture,

Foresight.The future of food and farming. Final Project Report / The Government Office for Science.London. 2011, p. 2008. (Executive summary – 44p.) One-year Review. 

The Foresight report makes a compelling case for urgent action to redesign the global food system to meet the challenge of feeding the world over the next 40 years. The Project analysed five key challenges for the future:

A. Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable.
B. Ensuring that there is adequate stability in food prices – and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur.
C. Achieving global access to food and ending hunger – this recognises that producing enough food in the world so that everyone can potentially be fed is not the same thing as ensuring food security for all.
D. Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change.
E. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world.

World agriculture towards 2030/50: the 2012 revision ESA Working Paper 12-03. / Alexandratos, Nikos, Bruinsma Jelle,  FAO, 2012, 153p, (read summary – 4p.)

Current UN projections indicate that world population could increase by more than two billion people from today’s levels, reaching 9.15 billion by 2050. Incomes will grow even faster. To meet increased demand, FAO projects that global agricultural production in 2050 will be 60 percent higher than in 2005/07. This is a smaller increase than the agriculture sector has achieved over the past half century, but still raises concerns about how it can be achieved sustainably. Evidence cautiously suggests that, at the global level, agricultural production can be increased enough to satisfy the additional demand projected to 2050.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions’ views

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’, Brussels, 29.2.2012, COM(2012) 79 final

This Communication presents the conception of the EIP ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’ referred to in the “Innovation Union”. The EIP follows the strategic orientations of “Europe 2020” and “The CAP towards 2020”.

The European Innovation Partnership (EIP) “Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability” aims to provide a working interface between agriculture, bio-economy, science, and others at EU, national and regional level. There are two main targets recognized in the EIP:

  • promoting productivity and efficiency of the agricultural sector (reversing the recent trend of diminishing productivity gains by 2020);
  • sustainability of agriculture (securing soil functionality at a satisfactory level by 2020).

European Parliament resolution of 18 January 2011 on recognition of agriculture as a strategic sector in the context of food security, T7-0006/2011 (read the summary)

International organisations’ views


Towards the Future We Want: End hunger and make transition to sustainable agricultural and food systems / FAO, 2012, p. 27

Save and grow: a policymaker’s guide to the sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production / FAO, 2011, p.102

The report claims that the agricultural approach since the Green Revolution 50 years ago has resulted in many countries facing land degradation, excessive water use and pesticide resistance. The FAO is thus calling for “a new direction based on better use of water, more targeted pesticide use, switching chemical fertilisers for mineral and organic sources, and wider use of high-yield seeds, including genetically modified varieties”.


Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Growth and Bridging the Gap for Small-Family Farms / Interagency Report to the Mexican G20 Presidency, Bioversity, CGIAR Consortium, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, IICA, OECD, UNCTAD, Coordination team of UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis, WFP, World Bank, and WTO.  June 2012, p.89

This report was submitted to the G20 Mexican Presidency by Bioversity, CGIAR Consortium, FAO, IFAD, IFPRI, IICA, OECD, UNCTAD, Coordination team of UN High Level Task Force on the Food Security Crisis, WFP, World Bank and WTO. It responds to Mexico’s request for information and advice on practical actions that could be undertaken to sustainably improve agricultural productivity growth, in particular on small family farms. Improving agricultural productivity, while conserving and enhancing natural resources, is an essential requirement for farmers to increase global food supplies on a sustainable basis. The success of developing countries in increasing agricultural productivity will have global implications.

Water Quality and Agriculture: Meeting the Policy Challenge / OECD, March 2012, p. 156 Executive summary (p.8)

The report looks at recent trends and prospects for water pollution from agriculture and the implications of climate change. It assesses the costs and benefits of agriculture’s impact on water systems, and presents case studies of policy experiences from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, the Baltic region, France, the United Kingdom and the European Union in general. The report provides a set of recommendations for countries for meeting the challenge of improving agricultural water quality.

World Bank 

World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for development / World Bank, 2008.

World Development Report 2008 calls for greater investment in agriculture in developing countries. The report warns that the sector must be placed at the center of the development agenda if the goals of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 are to be realized.

Agriculture for Development policy brief / World Bank, 2008, 2p. (This policy brief has been extracted from the World Bank’s 2008 WDR: Agriculture for Development) 

Managing the connections between agriculture, natural resource conservation, and the environment must become an integral part of using agriculture for development in order to achieve more sustainable agricultural production systems.

NGO views

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change (initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security)

The role for scientists in tackling food insecurity and climate change / John R Beddington et al., Agriculture & Food Security 2012, Vol.1, no.10, p.9.

This paper outlines scientific contributions that will be essential to the seven policy recommendations for achieving food security in the context of climate change put forward by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. These include improved understanding of agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change, food price dynamics, food waste and consumption patterns and monitoring technologies as well as multidisciplinary investigation of regionally appropriate responses to climate change and food security challenges.


Agriculture and fishery statistics – Main results – 2009-10 / Eurostat, 2011, 152 pp

The chapter IV “Agriculture and the environment” will give a glimpse of the information on: cropping and livestock patterns and stocking densities; estimated consumption of manufactured fertilizers; nitrogen nalance; greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. The relationship between agriculture and the environment has resulted in environmental concerns and safeguards being integrated within the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), with attention to reducing the risks of environmental degradation through cross-compliance criteria and  agri-environmental measures, in order to enhance the sustainability of agro-ecosystems.

FAO Statistical Yearbook 2012 / Prakash, Adam et al. FAO, 2012, p.366

The publication presents a visual synthesis of the major trends and factors shaping the global food and agricultural landscape and their interplay with broader environmental, social and economic dimensions. It is subdivided in four parts:1. Supply of land, labour, capital, inputs, infrastructure, demographic and macroeconomic change, 2. Hunger dimensions, 3. Feeding the world, 4. Sustainability dimensions – land, water and pollution, climate change, biodiversity and organic farming, GMOs,  agriculture and the bio-economy are visually presented here in charts and tables in separate parts.

Related legislative procedure(s)

European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD): support for rural development 2014-2020, 2011/0282(COD)

Common agricultural policy (CAP): direct payments to farmers under support schemes 2014-2020, 2011/0280(COD)

Common organisation of the markets in agricultural products (Single CMO Regulation) 2014-2020, 2011/0281(COD)

Common organisation of agricultural markets (CMO): regime of the single payment scheme and support to vine-growers 2014-2020, 2011/0285(COD)

Common agricultural policy (CAP): financing, management and monitoring 2014-2020, 2011/0288(COD)

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