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The conclusions of the Varenne round table on agriculture and climate change in France, by Anne-Claire Vial

The Varenne round table on agriculture, water, and climate change:

an approach with high stakes combining food sovereignty and sustainable resource management

By Anne-Claire Vial, President of ACTA- Agricultural Technical Institutes and member of IFGR

 

On 1 February 2022, the French government took stock of the conclusions of the Varenne consultations on water, agriculture and adaptation to climate change. Lasting nine months, these works brought the stakeholders together to draw up an operational road map for the French agricultural sector.

According to a report written by France Stratégie at the request of the President of the National Assembly, “For healthy and sustainable food”, the challenges of this sector are many and require a large number of varied responses, dealing with food independence, economics, the ageing of the agricultural population, the low level of income generated by farm work, the impacts of agriculture on soil and water quality, and its benefits in terms of public health in particular. Food insecurity is increasing in France and access to healthy food is becoming difficult for many low-income households.

Anne-Claire Vial, who coordinated the workgroup “Strengthen the resilience of agriculture in a global approach by acting in particular on soils, varieties, crop production and livestock breeding practices, agroecological infrastructures and the efficiency of irrigation water” describes the outcome of the approach. Many thanks to her for her insights!

 


Source : French Ministry for Food and Agriculture

In spring 2021, France underwent an unprecedented wave of frost after a mild winter. Several hundred thousand hectares of crops were destroyed, with no crop being spared. This exceptional event along with numerous observations already made on the changing climate in France (harvest dates earlier by several weeks, higher alcohol content of musts, loss of 50% of areas under hard wheat in 10 years due to dramatic falls in yields, loss of independence regarding fodder for livestock, etc.) was a seismic shock. Politicians and public opinion concluded that action was necessary to ensure the perpetuation of our agricultural activity.

It was in this context that France launched wide-ranging and structured reflection with the “Varenne round table on agriculture, water and climate change”. The originality of this approach was that it was performed under the dual aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Ecological Transition.

The Varenne approach is based on the premises that:

  • food sovereignty is a strategic stake for a nation (“delegating our food is madness”, said President Macron in March 2020, at the height of the Covid -19 crisis);
  • climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity, with impacts on agriculture and biodiversity.

The Varenne approach is also a method that:

  • relies on science to ensure objective debate,
  • calls for innovation to find new solutions,
  • listens to all the stakeholders to achieve a concerted and shared vision.

Combining food sovereignty and durable resource management


Highly inclusive, the Varenne approach comprises 3 directions of study:

Direction 1 – Risk management and policies to ensure assistance,

Direction 2 – Agronomic levers to adapt agriculture to climate change,

Direction 3  Knowledge of water resources and their different uses, and regulatory and legal aspects.

Highly structural, this consideration generates new legal texts, modifies existing decrees, with the signature of a charter of reciprocal commitments between the actors and the earmarking of supporting funds for research and for investments, using national, regional and European funds.

The most significant results of the Varenne approach

Direction 1 – Risk management and policies ensuring assistance

Exceptional damage will be dealt with by national solidarity. The Varenne approach encourages the development of tools to anticipate meteorological phenomena in relation with Météo France (weather forecasting service) and decision-aid tools with the strategic orientation of agricultural models. Furthermore, it completely reforms the comprehensive risk insurance system of farmers.

The essential point is the creation of an insurance or reinsurance pool in which the State is a member by right. The data necessary for insurance will be shared (claims costs, yield, pricing). The objective is that no farmer wishing to subscribe and no production will be excluded from the insurance system.

 

Direction 2 – Agronomic levers to adapt agriculture to climate change

 

All the 35 inter-branch organisations[1] recognised by the French Ministry of Agriculture are committed to establishing the necessary governance to pursue adaptation to climate change and write their actions plans from now to 2024.

Thirteen regional diagnostics corresponding to thirteen French administrative regions have been carried out (SWOT analysis) by actors of the territories under the aegis of the Chambers of Agriculture. As from 2022, these actors will study the solutions to be considered. A single database will group all the levers of adaptation (more than 100 levers identified already) with 15 assessment criteria. This matrix is coordinated by a network of 30 experts from worlds of targeted and applied research, education and transfer. It is interoperable with all the existing agricultural resource centres.

Lastly, the State has opened specific financial procedures such as priority research equipment and programmes, calls for projects permitting adaptation to climate change, and assistance for future skills.

 

Direction 3 – Knowledge of water resources and their different uses, and regulatory and legal aspects

The works strengthen these regional projects for water management, a concerted planning tool bearing on all the uses of water, and give a key role to prefects, the representatives of the State in the regions. Works will be performed to study the re-use of wastewater and the best ways of exploiting existing reservoirs, e.g., hydroelectric reservoirs, and to deepen knowledge of the volumes of water that can be withdrawn in winter.

France has endowed itself with a road map with the Varenne approach, at a time when a new IPCC report estimates that henceforth more than 50% of the world’s population is “at risk” in the face of climate change, and that in Europe “substantial losses are expected in most regions”. The challenge is now to maintain mobilisation in the months and years to come.

 

[1] The inter-branch organisations gather the actors upstream and downstream of a sector in view to managing and exploiting production, such as fruits and vegetables, wine, and cereals. It is recognised by a public authority on the basis of community law.

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