“Food inflation is good news”

“Food inflation is good news”
“Food inflation is good news”

You have already published numerous books on agricultural geopolitics, why this essay?

Between Covid and Ukraine, as well as several other issues, there has been a very visible return to agricultural and food issues in recent years. With my publisher, we wanted to have a committed work which deals with the problem on a global scale and which tries to explain why it is a strategic question and where the major points of reference are located. I find it regrettable to hear over and over again that in Europe, in France, there is no future, that we will die of heat in 30 years, that we will live less well than our parents, etc. I also see too many 20-year-olds losing their footing a little and no longer necessarily having a taste for the future or a taste for others. However, it is the basis of democracy, so we are killing democracy by giving up on a better and collective future. I said to myself that I had to write a book in which, alongside agricultural and food issues, I put on the table the desire of everyone to still have collective adventures that are certainly difficult, hence the Everest metaphor, but necessary.

What are the major challenges of this “food Everest” that you mention?

We must have an intensification of human and food security in the coming years like never before. But we must also achieve an unprecedented reduction in carbon emissions. So we have a gigantic equation to solve, which is how to intensify on one side and decrease on the other. For my part, I am for the reduction of carbon emissions, but I am also for the growth of human development. And the food question for me is drawn around this dialectic.

In this ongoing agricultural and food transition, are we not putting too much pressure on producers, particularly in Europe?

One of the errors perhaps is to estimate that we are going to change food systems and therefore force the productive agricultural world to adapt. In recent years, in Europe, in France, there has undoubtedly been excessive emphasis on greening, even if it is necessary. But we have insufficiently combined this greening with the means given to the protagonists to do so. As with the climb of Everest, we tell the farmers, we will show you the route, you will do the job, and we will explain to you how you should do it. On the other hand, we take away all your equipment and we don’t pay you more.

And what do you think triggered the agricultural crisis at the start of the year?

Most topics revolve around a crisis of confidence, a crisis of consistency and a crisis of constancy. There are very few new topics. When we follow the agricultural world a little, we don’t think that there is a claim or a problem that we haven’t seen! There is growing frustration and the consumer has his share of responsibility. For two years, I have said that food inflation is good news, for example.

If it is more efficient socially, ecologically and more remunerative for those who do it, it must cost more. You have to be very clear. But the agricultural world must also understand that they cannot do as they did yesterday. We have on the one hand a global agriculture which has been developing very strongly for 20 years and another which will have to intensify its ecological practices, regenerate nature, rethink the health of the soil, learn to produce with little water, with a lot of sobriety… In all of this, I have always had one conviction, which is that we will only have combinations of solutions. That is to say, there is no agricultural “model”. A successful agricultural business is one that is profitable, sustainable, diversified, risk-free and portable in the sense of transferability.

You mention in your book the notion of “solidarity sovereignty”. What is it about ?

On the agricultural and food level, sovereignty is the observation that no country in the world can do without having the best possible agriculture at home for its food security. But there are many countries that know that it will never be able to reach 100% of the need. It’s about how I rely on others and how I manage that geopolitically.

And then it means being united between the territories of my own country and with regard to the future. I’m not going to degrade my soil to be good for 10 years and be food insecure afterwards, that wouldn’t make sense. It also means showing solidarity with producers, with consumers who pay the right price. It is also to say when I can export surpluses because I produce more than my domestic needs, trade is useful. Solidarity food sovereignty is all these games because I don’t believe in the fact that we can go into everyone for themselves because we could have considerable food insecurities on a world scale. Is food sovereignty disguised nationalism or is it geopolitically a renewed awareness everywhere, including in Europe and France, that we cannot disarm ourselves in agriculture? I don’t know. But we can aim for food sovereignty without falling into the trap of a discourse on general autarky.

Comments collected by Benoît Devault

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