The following is an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Franz Fischler, former member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development, during his visit to China for the Boao Asian Forum.
Dr. Franz Fischler, now the president of European Forum Alpbach, says he is impressed with the progress China has made over the past two decades since his first visit to China in 1992.
People's Daily Online: China is now seeking to promote ecological agriculture for sustainable development. How is the situation in Europe?
Dr. Franz Fischler: Sustainability must not be seen simply in terms of its environmental dimension alone. The challenge facing sustainable development is also to promote economic performance and social balance, at the same time safeguard and improve the quality of nature and the environment. We must keep this balance robust, and make it as long-lasting as possible.
This is what we are doing in Europe—applying the view of sustainability directly to agricultural production. The EU undertook agricultural reform last year, with the focus very much on making the European agricultural sector more competitive.
People's Daily Online: Are there any good practices in sustainable agriculture where China might learn from Europe?
Dr. Franz Fischler: China is aware of the importance of sustainable agriculture, and has a similar interest in the subject. We are looking at ways in which we can achieve agricultural output with lower input, that is to say, quality output - enough food, healthy food and food with highest quality – and lower input - especially of fertilizers, and with the necessary soil protection qualities.
To achieve this, the EU has a complex set of support systems. In addition, the EU has policies not only to support agriculture, but also to develop the whole food chain, which includes basic production, processing, and retail. This is what we are trying to establish. Nowadays, it is not only about food for human consumption, but also the use of agricultural materials for non-food purposes, for example, in the bio-economy. Through bio-technology, we can replace the oil that is used in the chemical industry to produce plastics, for instance.
People's Daily Online: A key question that is often asked about sustainable agriculture, is whether it can be productive enough to meet the world's food needs. What is your opinion?
Dr. Franz Fischler: It can be productive enough to feed the world, and efficient enough to succeed in the marketplace if you do it right. The greater risk lies in not having a sustainable system, because sooner or later you will end up with irreversible problems.
In general, yields from ecological agriculture can be broadly comparable to conventional yields in developed countries. In developing countries, ecological agriculture practices can greatly increase productivity, particularly if the existing system is low-input, which is largely the case in Africa.
People's Daily Online: What are the biggest requirements for a sustainable agricultural system?
Dr. Franz Fischler: What is essential is that we should invest in knowledge. The soft factors are becoming more and more important in agricultural production. Agricultural sustainability does not mean going back to the olden days to follow the ways that our grandfathers produced in the agriculture sector. Instead, we educate and train farmers properly and give them the necessary advice.
More links to interview with Dr. Franz Fischler, former member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development
Is family farm a way of China's future agricultural development?
Should meat from animals fed GM feed labeled as GMO?