The world is going green, and the South African fruit industry needs to go with it. By Kara van der Berg.
Europe is becoming greener, as indicated by the increasing number of votes won by Green parties in different European countries in recent national elections.
“Sustainability is becoming mainstream in European politics and voters are holding politicians accountable for it,” said Paul Hardman, industry affairs manager at the Citrus Grower’s Association of Southern Africa.
This has led to more green policies being implemented, including the Green Deal and the Farm-2-Fork Strategy. “The Green Deal is going to make it more difficult for us,” warned Hardman.
European Union agricultural policy
“To understand the Green Deal, we also need to understand the new Common Agricultural Policy that’s in play in Europe, and the number of subsidies that growers in Europe are getting,” explained Hardman.
This Common Agricultural Policy will come into effect next year. It will entail subsidies amounting to around R6.4 trillion for the period 2023–2027.
“The Common Agricultural Policy is a massive wealth redistribution pact that was signed between agriculture, society, and consumers where funds get funnelled from consumers into the pockets of agriculture and people living in rural areas,” said Hardman. “It’s bypassing the normal economic supply-and-demand price-setting mechanisms.”
More than 40% of the total Common Agricultural Policy expenditure will be dedicated to climate action. “The themes of sustainability and climate action are coming through,” commented Hardman.
Along with the Green Deal, this Common Agriculture Policy will hugely impact South African exports to the European Union.
Over the last few years, Europe has become much more inward-looking, placing a higher value on its own producers and produce than on imports. “When you engage with the European Commission, you get the sense that there’s a much more protectionist outlook on the world,” said Hardman.
He believes that this attitude resulted from various events of the last 15 years, including Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016. “Brexit rattled a few cages. Even in the citrus industry, we’ve been caught in the crossfire with some phytosanitary measures where European unity has been placed as a higher priority than science and technical data.”
The Green Deal
The Green Deal is an overarching policy framework for all economic activity within Europe. “It’s not just related to agriculture, although agriculture is a key component,” said Hardman. “Overall, Europe is trying to move towards a climate-neutral economy and society by 2050.”
The Green Deal promises, amongst other things, clean air and water, healthy soil and biodiversity, healthy and affordable food, longer-lasting products that can be recycled or reused, and future-proof jobs and skills training for the transition towards a green society.
There will be several policy areas that Europe will focus on through the lens of the Green Deal. Half of those directly impact agriculture. The Green Deal will affect how food is produced, distributed, and consumed in Europe. The growing, transporting, and packaging of food will be transformed.
The goal of climate neutrality means that Europe might implement a carbon border tax. “Where food is sourced from far away, you may have to pay a greater tax once that food is sold in Europe,” noted Hardman.
He warned that one must remember that the intentions of the Green Deal might be actioned in a Eurocentric way. “We farm completely differently from Europe. For example, where they want to reverse biodiversity loss, we want to maintain existing biodiversity.”
One of the proposed policies that the European Union wishes to implement in line with the Green Deal is the Farm-2-Fork Strategy, which aims to make the food system sustainable. Hardman highlighted the huge role of agriculture in this context.
Key aspects of the Farm-2-Fork Strategy are reducing the use of hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030, promoting integrated pest management, and reducing excess fertilisation. The European Union also wants to increase organic production to 25% by 2030. It is unclear right now how much these targets will be imposed on countries exporting to the European Union.
“As the Green Deal is rolled out, it’s going to impact different legislation,” said Hardman. “What we are seeing is a bit of a patchwork effect at the member state level. The European Union is no longer a common market, you must apply different requirements for different countries.”
Hardman believes that supply chains will be disrupted in the near term as new requirements become applicable without much notice. “Supply chains are increasingly going to start competing on sustainability themes and the ability to adapt quickly,” he added.
The good news is that South Africa will have a competitive advantage when more reporting on environmental factors becomes the norm. “We are well ahead of the rest of the pack in the southern hemisphere and many European Union countries,” said Hardman. “I strongly recommend that growers get on that bandwagon and for example become SIZA [Sustainability Initiative of South Africa] members.”
In the medium term, Hardman cautions that we will witness a move away from good science — the technical basis for making decisions is going to be diluted.
Eventually, these changes will be reflected in our trade agreements with the European Union.
Hardman concluded on a positive note. “We are supplying good food that’s plant-based and meets a lot of the broader requirements the European Union is looking for and we are relatively close to Europe. There are opportunities in this for us as well.”
Image: Paul Hardman, Citrus Grower’s Association of Southern Africa. Supplied by Echo Media.