Farmers were on the streets again on Monday, making a nuisance of themselves, some might say, over EU regulations designed to cut pesticides, a very worthy endeavour it must be said.
The question is, in a world of competing interests, do the farmers have any merit at all to their argument that they’re being forced to rush into something costly under tight timetables that will cause many to shutter their farms at a time when the global food supply is shaky?
Looking at the stats, the EU accounts for 6 per cent of global emissions in total and Cyprus is responsible for 0.26 per cent of that 6 per cent.
Of that 0.26 per cent, the bulk is caused by power production, transportation and households.
Agriculture accounts for just 12 per cent of the island’s total 0.26 per cent of EU emissions, according to their figures. This puts Cyprus’ share of EU agricultural emissions at just over 0.02 per cent.
In other words, if all our farms closed, it would not make a much of a difference to our overall emissions. It would help the environment of course but Cyprus would become more dependent on imported produce, much of it from countries outside the EU where the same pesticides rules may not apply anyway.
Farmers must however acknowledge that pesticide use is bad for everyone and everything, wildlife, soil and the planet and be prepared to join efforts to mitigate it until it is no longer necessary. Alternatives do exist but farmers say this will add to their costs and put them out of business. Some also say the alternatives are not as effective and crops yields would suffer.
However, research suggests that though alternatives cost more in the first two years, they pay off after that as the soil recovers and farming becomes more sustainable, giving higher yields. Adequate financial support would be necessary, and is to be offered, so shouting on the radio that potatoes will cost €20 a kilo helps no one.
Still, at the same time as people bemoan the use of pesticides (Tip: Soaking produce in bicarbonate of soda or vinegar removes 95 per cent of the residue, according to studies) most people don’t seem to care what kinds of other poisons they ingest when they buy ultra-processed foods (UPF), or what percentage of emissions come from ‘Big Food’, another global sector skilled at greenwashing.
The Lancet says total food production account for 26 per cent of global emissions. However, the majority of information on this “does not adequately address the role of food processing”, only agriculture, it says.
Environmental impacts from food giants include machinery emissions, energy usage, waste, plastic packaging and transport. “The power of transnational corporations means they can dictate where and what is grown, produced, marketed, and sold,” it says.
So, is it really fair to pile the heat on small farmers now when this green transition should have begun a couple of decades ago? We’ve been hearing about it at least that long but the powers-that-be sat around talking about it and did nothing. Now they’re in a massive hurry and everything is being piled on at once to meet tight targets, and not just in agriculture.
An article on Monday in Politico focusing on all this, pointed out; “there is a lack of realism” in Brussels when it comes to setting time frames to achieve green targets “because it is those time frames that will collapse rural economies”.
Is it also fair at the same time to give ‘Big Food’ a pass to continue polluting and contributing to chronic disease with their UPFs without any real scrutiny? And what about ‘Big Agri’s’ culpability? No doubt both have effective lobbies in the EU’s corridors of power that could yet derail efforts anyway.
Here in Cyprus we can continue to pile on the farmers for pesticide use but consumers could look in the mirror as well. We could probably support local farmers more by going to the markets but all that ready-washed, peeled and packaged produce on supermarket shelves is just so convenient. If we did support them more, they might not feel as much of a need to skimp on pest control with cheap chemicals in order to compete and keep their prices low.