World Expo, G20 and COP21:
Agriculture as top issue
on the international strategic agenda
Interview of Sébastien Abis,
Associate Researcher at IRIS (Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques)
“Produce more and produce better” sums up in one single sentence one of the key challenges for the 21st century. Yet the objective to be reached seems to be especially multifaceted under the combined pressure of endogenous and exogenous risks, whether they are due to climate hazards or price hyper-volatility––a structural incident that was highlighted during the 2007/2008 hunger riots.
For Sébastien Abis, Associate Researcher at IRIS, agriculture and food security are not a fad broached according to economic conditions. They must be an enduring concern at a time when their balances are especially unstable. In an interview given to IRIS, which we are excerpting below1, the scientist covers the various international meetings talking place in 2015––World Expo, G20 Agriculture Ministerial Meeting and COP21––that place agricultural issues at the heart of the political and media attention, and corroborate the intense interconnection between agriculture, climate and socio-political balances. In this context, the author reminds us that France has a strategic role to play: “Turning the development of agriculture into a driver for France’s accountable power and sustainable influence in the world.”
momagri Editorial Board
In what way is 2015 especially special for agricultural and food issues?
Agriculture is not a cyclical topic. Far from it! I must state it from the outset, since it is evident for some and a reminder for others. We do not have a year for agriculture, but a food necessity at all times and in all places. It is old as the world itself, and this story is far from over. We must feed ourselves to live, and thus ensure agricultural production to safeguard the food security for the greatest number of people. Yet the planet is experiencing an ongoing population growth. Frequent tensions subsist in such a crucial economic sector, since supply does not meet demand, thus leading to soaring prices that can be aggravated or even triggered by climate events, logistical problems and obviously conflicts. Unfortunately, war, poverty and hunger are linked.
For public opinion and laypersons, the 2008 food crisis was certainly a marker of this agricultural uniqueness in global strategic issues. It represented a shift, because increased attention has been given to agriculture since. One must also note that the average price index of food commodities, which is published monthly by the FAO, has still not declined below the levels recorded before the 2008 food crisis. The world is currently in an especially precarious situation, even if a price contraction has been recorded for the past few months. This contraction must not shroud the massive structural challenges that can be summed up as follows for the sake of brevity: How can we produce more––to meet the human, animal, energy and industrial needs––but also produce better––to improve environmental preservation and stop various excesses––with less resources––scarcity of water, farmland and financing among others.
But isn’t 2015 still a special year?
In fact, without being “the year of agriculture”, 2015 is nonetheless a year jam-packed with international events in which the food security issue will be emphasized. The 21st Conference on Climate Change––the COP21–– will be held in Paris in December 2015. Between May and October, the Milan World Expo entitled “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” represents another landmark event for 2015. The 7th World Water Forum that was held between April 12 and 17 in South Korea largely focused on water challenges and irrigation. The 2015 International Year of Soils launched by the FAO focuses on the crucial role of agriculture in land preservation and agricultural real estate in economic development policies. As chair of the 2015 G20 Forum, Turkey also ranked agriculture as one of its priorities, and a ministerial meeting on the topic was held in Istanbul on May 8, 2015.
The issues relating to natural resources, climate breakdowns, agricultural output, social and regional growth and food security––the bedrock for man’s security––are thus at the heart of a year filled with events, a year that wants to provide solutions for more sustainable development. Unquestionably, these international meetings are placing agricultural, food and rural issues at the center of the political and media attention, as well as at the core of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that will be established in the framework of the post-2015 new global agenda for development. It will be implemented during the upcoming Annual General Assembly of the UN next September, and will stand for one of the key templates for international cooperation for the coming fifteen years, as was the Millennium Agenda between 2000 and 2015.
Must we link these events––World Expo, G20––to the COP21 to be held in Paris in December 2015? If so, how can France make an innovative contribution?
Absolutely, and this was one of the main messages in the speech made by French Minister Stéphane Le Foll during the G20 ministerial meeting. He called for seizing the opportunities provided by the 2015 sequence that includes the Milan Expo, the G20 in Istanbul and the COP21 in Paris. “Food security, the fight against global warming and world peace are very closely linked,” said the Minister. Such interconnections are also underscored at the French Pavilion at the Milan Expo. Laurent Fabius, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, also feels that agriculture must find its rightful place in the ongoing negotiating process on climate change, and makes it very clear that agriculture is a source of solutions to as well as the victim of climate change. During the February 20, 2015 high-level meeting on agriculture and climate change held in Paris, Laurent Fabius advocated a “climate-protecting agriculture that is to say which protects the planet and feeds its population.” France thus plays a critical role to restore its rightful strategic value to agriculture in the framework of the global climate negotiations. France also does so in the G20 and many other regional forums, especially in the Mediterranean Basin and in Africa, as it is convinced that food challenges significantly shape the stability, development and cooperation between societies. In this context, it also promotes agro-ecologic solutions, and places them as current requisite practices in the French farmland since the 2014 adoption of the new law for the future of agriculture.
This international and ecological concern must go hand in hand with the country’s support to agriculture, which remains competitive. France’s power cannot solely rely on diplomacy and technical cooperation. Exporting strategic commodities, such as grain, also bolsters the French economy and cuts down the country’s trade deficit. As far as agriculture is concerned, France has not lost the fight of globalization, quite the contrary. But now is the time to act strategically to prevent a silent and slow decline. And thanks to the “produce more and produce better” thinking, France can keep meeting the food as well ecological needs of the planet. Diplomatic, economic and environmental achievements make up the three pillars of a similar strategy: Turning agricultural development into a driver for France’s accountable power and sustainable influence in the world.
1 The complete interview is available from the IRIS’ website: