This transition, believes the researcher, will require a “coordinated response at European level” and will have to address the almost politically taboo issue of “the reduction of animal production”.
What agricultural France today?
France is the leading European producer of cereals, eggs and beef. Its agriculture, the first beneficiary of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), represents “nearly 20% of national greenhouse gas emissions”, recalls the specialist in public agricultural policies.
It is a fragile, aging giant, which loses more than 1% of its 400,000 farmers each year and suffers the brunt of climatic hazards or attacks by more resistant parasites.
“Between 1950 and 1995, yields progressed very significantly under the effect of the addition of fertilisers, better management of pests through chemistry and mechanization. From 1995, we leveled off on most production, with increasingly frequent climatic accidents”, recalls the researcher.
Produce fewer animals
The objective of carbon neutrality is translated by the “European roadmap which is the Green Deal, with its agricultural variation, the strategy of the Fork to the Fork (Farm to Fork)”, which imposes among other things to “reduce the nitrogen fertilizers, pesticides”, to “increase the complexity of the landscape” (meadows, hedges, etc.) and “to reduce the consumption of animal products”.
“Today, says Pierre-Marie Aubert, no scenario envisages a Europe in 2050 where we would have reduced greenhouse gas emissions enough to achieve carbon neutrality without going through the reduction of animal production”.
“We don’t know how to do otherwise”, he insists, placing this reduction at the heart of the development of agroecology, that is to say of sustainable agriculture, respectful of environmental balances.
“Farming today – particularly in Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark or Italy – is extremely intensive and heteronomous (the food given to the animals comes from outside the farm). These systems absorb 60% of the grain (maize, barley) used in Europe and 75% of oilseeds (soya, rapeseed, sunflower)”.
Result: “the main driver of the use of fertilizers and pesticides is animal production”.
In France, as elsewhere, “this transition of breeding is little discussed and remains very sensitive, politically and culturally”, he recognizes.
But in Europe, some countries have opened the debate: “The Netherlands is putting on the table a mechanism for financing the transition of livestock farming, with 25 billion euros over ten years and a reduction of the herd by a third “.
It is all the more difficult since the benefits of the transition will not be “immediate”: “It is not because French farmers will have made major mitigation efforts that the effects of climate change will be less strong on their plots. This is typical of the prisoner’s dilemma”, where individual interests oppose collective interests.
For the researcher, “we cannot treat decarbonization independently of biodiversity” and we must simultaneously “activate several political levers”: concerning supply – how farmers produce – demand – how people consume – and the organization of the market.
On the offer, he considers, as the farmers demand, that it is necessary to build “a multiannual payment system for the CAP” and not annual as is currently the case. For example, while France pleads for more protein autonomy, “we could say to farmers: if you do not have 15% of legumes in your rotation in four years, we reduce the payment by half”.
“There are plenty of things possible” and we must draw on the strengths of each: “The grassland system of French dairy farming” or “the maintenance in Italy of a network of small farms – more than a million and a half against more than 450,000 in France”.
There remains the unknown of the next five-year Macron: “Is he going to do what the candidate said before the first round, that is to say demand to discuss the Farm to Fork strategy on behalf of of food sovereignty, or what the candidate between the two rounds said: We need ecological planning, we have to be ambitious? We don’t know”.