Collaborative governance to fulfill farmers’ demands and green transition

We need a better distribution of power and responsibilities among agricultural stakeholders to avoid responding to farmers' legitimate concerns at the expense of progressive environmental policies.

Natalia Garrido

Food systems, which encompass all aspects and processes associated with the production and consumption of food, significantly impact the environment, with agriculture production playing a very significant role. Specifically, ‘food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions’, and agriculture production has been recognized as a major driver of the Earth system exceeding planetary boundaries. 

A shift away from conventional farming practices and towards a holistic management that considers the interdependence of land, animals, and people can positively impact food systems’ outcomes. For example, regenerative agriculture can help restore soil health, enhance biodiversity, and mitigate climate change. This approach is gaining attention in the agri-food sector. However, a change in food systems requires several compromises, not only from farmers but from diverse stakeholders such as processors, distributors, investors, consumers, and policymakers.  

In Europe, 81% of natural and semi-natural habitats have poor (45%) or bad (36%) conservation status, and despite some animal and plant species living in them show improvement (6%), 35% are deteriorating: 

Habitats and species Europe
Source: European Environment Agency (EEA) report on the State of nature (p.34). 

In this context, how can we strategically position farmers at the center of our food systems while restoring nature and navigating the necessary compromises from various stakeholders? 

Farmer’s protests across Europe

Farmers, who are responsible for looking after the land and growing healthy food, are requested to make the greater sacrifices while they receive the smallest portion of profits. Likewise, farmers confront more and more bureaucracy, the impacts of climate change, resources’ constraints, economic inequalities, and financial instability. The question then is how to share the risks faced by farmers across the value chain

A diverse range of farmers, each applying different farming practices, have recently been protesting across Europe, including several demonstrations in Brussels. They mainly demand fair prices, reduced administrative burden, extended transition periods and an increase of subsidies for the green transition, and they also object to the consequences of free-trade agreements. Many of these concerns are not new but have been a problem for many years already

One of the questions is how to share the risks faced by farmers across the value chain

In a recent joint statement in solidarity with farmers in Europe, civil society organizations state that “the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of European food systems depends on the dignity, viability, and wellbeing of the farming community”. 

The European Commission is already proposing some short-term measures, but many farmers considered them insufficient, calling for stronger support instead of mere gestures. EU agriculture ministers are discussing changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and trying to reduce bureaucracy through new measures. Additionally, they are considering allowing farmers more flexibility in meeting green requirements in CAP. These revisions, however, could result in a regression regarding the green European policies or greenlash.  

In Spain, the Minister of Agriculture is meeting with the main agricultural organizations such as Asociación Agraria Jóvenes Agricultores (ASAJA), Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricultores y Ganaderos (COAG), and Unión de Pequeños Agricultores y Ganaderos (UPA). 

Despite these gestures and advancements, it is unknown if these revisions and upcoming meetings will finally be able to address farmers’ needs while promoting sustainable food systems. The core issue at hand is a better distribution of power and responsibilities among stakeholders to prevent responding to farmers' demands at the expense of progressive environmental policies. 

Legislating for nature amidst polarization

On February 27, 2024, the European Parliament approved the Nature Restoration Law, which is a key law of the European Green Deal and the first continent-wide regulation that binds its targets to the restoration of degraded ecosystems. The law received 329 votes in favour, 275 against, and 24 abstentions; its next stage is to be approved at the EU Council in April, and then member states will be required to formulate their national restoration plans within the following two years.  

The Nature Restoration Law aims to restore 20% of EU’s land and sea areas by 2030, 60% by 2040, and 90% by 2050, giving substantial relevance to tackle the climate crisis and biodiversity loss

The final version of the Nature Restoration Law reduced its original level of ambition

An agreement between the European Parliament and Member States' negotiators was already reached in November 2023, while the law became quite politized and suffered from a campaign to water down the text by right-wing groups and lobbies at the end of 2023, reducing the level of ambition in the final version of the law.  

On the same day the Nature Restoration Law was approved, the European Parliament also passed new regulations and penalties for environmental crimes, with sentences of up to 10 years in prison for individuals and fines of up to 5% of global turnover or 24-40 million euros for companies. The new directive includes a list of offenses such as depletion of water resources, serious violations of European legislation on chemicals, and pollution caused by ships. It was approved with 499 votes in favor, 100 against, and 23 abstentions.  

The challenges at the regulatory level show the complexity of reaching common ground at the EU, but the recent progress could be understood as well as an avenue for improvement.  

Re-evaluating, collaborating, and planning ahead

Our current context can be understood from a BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, and Incomprehensible) framework as we find ourselves in numerous scenarios where results are unpredictable, and circumstances are incomprehensible. Besides the many disruptions, the combination of business as usual, political polarization and the associated disinformation tactics seem to be part of the problem when it comes to collaborating to restore nature and creating sustainable food systems.  

Prioritizing particular interests over collaboration increases uncertainties and blocks possibilities for change

As society demands more and more accountability from businesses and politicians, greater efforts to further develop personal and collective care, achieve a change of mindset, and develop humanistic leadership are urgently needed. We need good information and transparency for a truly democratic process in the upcoming European elections in June that will directly impact Europe's future. 

When political parties at the European Commission and European Parliament as well as multinational businesses and interest groups prioritize particular interests over collaboration and common good, they increase uncertainties and block possibilities for change — so much needed in the current climate crisis. Meanwhile, we hear from different actors and expert voices that we will face more and more dramatic socio-ecological crises in a context of an increasing number of armed conflicts around the world. 

In such a context, it might be worthy for all to promote a better communication through an open, ongoing and respectful dialogue and understanding across parties and sectors, as we need a mindset shift that allows us to truly collaborate to regenerate nature and assure the very basis of our future. 

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