Our project, the Climate Smart Agriculture Booster (CSA Booster), will ensure that smart climate-friendly agricultural techniques are used throughout Europe. We want to close the gap between the demand for and the supply of technological climate solutions in agriculture. In addition, we want to bring about a change in behaviour among farmers, the industry and developers of technology.
Adapting agriculture to climate change is necessary to achieve food security
A product invented in one country can also be put to good use in another country. Currently, countries or companies frequently work along separate tracks. A good example is the spreading of manure. In the Netherlands there is plenty of legislation in that respect, and all kinds of machines have been developed for the injection of manure into the soil. This is more environment-friendly and better for the water quality, plus it reduces the emission of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, Italy has also come to the conclusion that injecting manure is better, so it is investing in the development of new machines, whereas part of that knowledge could easily be obtained from the Netherlands. We are trying to bring the technological developments in one country together with the demand in others.
However, the CSA Booster goes further. A major part of the problem also concerns a change of behaviour, which is a very complex issue. We aim to generate a change in agriculture throughout Europe, whereby agriculture starts implementing new technologies that can effectively face the challenges set by climate change.
A number of problems emerge in this connection, such as the fact that the technologies to be applied by farmers require large investments, while not necessarily directly resulting in increased income; if farmers invest in new machines, they obviously want to see that investment reflected in a higher turnover.
Another problem is that farmers will have to manage the land in a new way from the moment they start using new climate-smart technologies. So they not only acquire different machines, they also have to start managing their land differently. To add to that, it is often the supermarkets which make money from selling sustainable products, whereas the farmers have to make the investments. How can you make sure that part of the profit also ends up with the farmers?
By using the CSA Booster we aim to resolve these issues. You could, for example, set up a specific subsidy system for farmers; we saw a good model of this in Switzerland, where a cattle feed additive was developed that leads to a significant reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases by cows. However, feed with this additive is substantially more expensive. It is not interesting for the farmer, because a cow produces hardly any more milk as a result. Therefore, that additive is not going to sell.
So what have they done in Switzerland? They linked the producer of the additive to the producer of the caddle feed who can apply for a subsidy in CO2 credits for each bag of feed that he sells. In that way, the competitiveness of the price with that of ordinany cattle feed is restored. Farmers like to buy that bag, because:
A) It doesn’t cost them more money;
B) They can sell their milk as sustainable milk, allowing them to tap into a new market
Taking everything into account, it is obvious that a complex action plan is required to bring about a change in agriculture. People must be linked, subsidies must be studied and farmers must be prepared to change their behaviour. In the CSA Booster we developed 6 service modules to facilitate and accelerate all the phases in this process. In this way, we want to come to an integral approach. Our services include:
We look at the current impact of new technologies on emissions. Once you know that, it is easier to set up a business model;
We help technology developers set up or adapt their business model.
We make an overview of current laws and regulations and subsidies;
We train farmers and ensure that new technologies meet the needs of the farmer. In addition we advise policy-makers and technology developers;
There is currently no initiative set up to bring about this transition on a large European-scale level, even though it is really important that in Europe, sufficient attention is paid to climate change. Agriculture in Europe accounts for 10% of CO2 emissions: if you do nothing, nothing will happen.
We have had talks with a variety of farmers and technology developers, and they all say that much remains to be done in the field of awareness. Therefore, we would like to give this awareness a boost.
Climate change fundamentally shifts the agricultural development agenda. Unless action is taken, changing temperature and precipitation, rises in sea level, and the increasing frequency of extreme climate events will significantly reduce global food production in this century. Major investments, private and public, are needed! Adapting agriculture to climate change is necessary to achieve food security, and agricultural mitigation can also reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and slow climate change itself.
Vincent Blok is Assistant Professor of Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Responsible Innovation at the Management Studies Chair Group, Wageningen University (The Netherlands). He is also a research fellow affiliated with the faculty of philosophy at Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands). From 2002 to 2006, Blok held various management positions in the health care sector. In 2006 he became director of the Louis Bolk Institute, an international research institute in the field of organic and sustainable agriculture, nutrition and health care. In 2005 he received his PhD degree in philosophy at Leiden University, with a specialisation in the philosophy of technology.
Together with 7 PhDs and 2 Post-docs, Blok pursues three lines of research - Business Ethical Issues in Sustainable Entrepreneurship, Business Models for Sustainability, and Industrial Responsible Innovation – in several (European) research projects. Blok’s work has appeared in publications including Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of Cleaner Production, Entrepreneurship & Regional Development and Journal of Responsible Innovation.
There is money to be made from the CSA Booster in a number of ways. Technology developers, for example, can use the CSA Booster to respond to social issues and in that way make more profit, while farmers and large industries can use it to improve their operating results by working in a more climate-friendly manner.
We would like to see this project grow into a large European company, with subsidiaries dealing with sustainable and climate-friendly agriculture in Europe established in every country. With the knowledge generated by this project, we would like to make such a great impact that would result in truly sustainable agriculture in Europe in the future.
In addition, we want R&D to have more contact with policy-makers and farmers’ associations. At present there is a large gap between scientific articles and practice. This project deals with the transfer of knowledge to working practice. It would be great if that knowledge subsequently gets back to the research side, so that we can use that information for producing improved applied knowledge.