Looking for resilience in the Agribusiness sector

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

To hold Roundtables, Conferences and the suchlike under Covid-19 restrictions and limitations is no easy thing; to integrate to the scope of such events the very challenges, the pandemic has posed is even more complicated. So, the Agribusiness Forum held this year by Georoutes Institute for the 3rd time instead of Serres in Northern Greece in hybrid configuration – meaning in part by physical presence in Athens, in part through Zoom connection – was in itself an exercise in optimism and persistence. All the more so, since the topic for this. year was: “Food Safety, Security and Resilience: challenges in the Covid-19 era and beyond” and the multi-disciplincy approach to this subject looked in earnest to the future at a time of self-confessed high uncertainty.

As was explained by participants such as Tassos Haniotis (Director of Strategy and Policy Analysis in DG Agriculture of the EU Commission) or Geert Wilms (Director of LIB/2LTO, a Brabant/Dutch Farmers Organisation), but also highlighted by Greek Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Makis Voridis, agriculture/the primary sector not only proved once more its crucial social usefulness under Covid-19 conditions, but also showed a higher measure of strength and resilience than initially expected.

The Conference addressed subjects such as the impact of climate change and the challenges of a circular agricultural economy, the promises but also the shortcomings of new technologies in practice, the importance of supply chains in agriculture (and of their disruption) as well as the overall need to enhance and develop resilience. The live-streamed event managed – and here is where optimism was rewarded! – to attract 995 participants, of which more than 20% followed at least 2 hours of the 10-hour internet event; interestingly enough close to 15% of this total joined the English-language version. Even the on-the-ground experience of Serres, which was missed by many, had not achieved that kind of participation. Another statistic: 40% of those who logged in where from business 24% farmers-producers, 17% academics; quite interesting a profile.

Going over to the summing-up of the main findings – one could even say: the eye-openers – of the Conference, one would first single out the warning that the ongoing shift of the EU Common Agricultural Policy leads already less and less to a mechanism of compensation for economic and social issues of European farming/of European farmers: safeguarding the environment, betting on biosecurity is now the name of the game. This will cause deep shifts in situations like the Greek one.

To approach decarbonization in a constructive way, the farming sector will have a tough time – which means both investments and mentality changes. Large-scale projects, as the changeover from lignite-based electricity production undertaken by the Greek Government do have an agricultural component – but this component has to be worked on.

Introducing new technologies in agriculture remains a priority. The “Triple Helix” approach of the Netherlands, which binds closely together academia/research, state/regional authorities and a private-sector mentality, is always a beacon – but its implementation is a different story. For new technologies to yield a positive result, on-the-field advice and tech expertise is needed; farmers have to get adequate advice – and heed it.

Last but not least, consumers of agricultural produce are increasingly leading the game through their end-preferences; value chains are increasingly influenced by consumer preferences and farming practices will have to adapt as will products on offer. This constitutes a deep wave surging up and the Covid-19 situation, with the spread of on-line marketing, is accelerating the trend.