【DE】DLG President Hubertus Paetow: Solving political conflicts of objectives with progress and innovation  

Opening of the DLG Field Days 2022 in Kirschgartshausen near Mannheim


(DLG). For the opening of the DLG field days, which will take place from the 14th to the 16th June 2022 in Kirschgartshausen near Mannheim, DLG President Hubertus Paetow has warned that the politically convenient simplification of goals makes the principle of sustainable development absurd. “It is precisely in the complexity of balancing the competing goals that lies the brand core, lies the ingenious idea of the concept of sustainable development,” Paetow said. There is only one way out of the diverse political conflicts of objectives, namely progress and innovation.


Food security back on the agenda


In recent decades, global trade in agricultural goods and the use of the positive effects of specialization of the locations has enabled great progress in food security – despite increases in demand due to population growth and rising meat consumption, there is less hunger in the world today than 20 years ago, says Paetow. Especially due to the great boost in innovation, which has found its way into both agriculture and animal husbandry through electronic and digital, but also mechanical processes, it has been possible in recent decades to meet the ever-increasing demand for food and raw materials in such a way that both hunger in the world has decreased and an ever-increasing contribution of the agricultural sector in the fields of energy and raw materials has been made possible.


As a result of this development, the focus in public perception is no longer on ensuring our food, but on climate and environmental protection. Insect extinction and climate change made headlines and determined the discussions and also the political agenda around the agri-food industry.


But the attack on Ukraine has called the issue of global food security back on the global political agenda in an urgency and drama that could not have been expected in recent years, notes Paetow.


Since food prices have risen sharply as a result of the war, there have been voices calling for a departure from the transformation of agriculture to greater biodiversity conservation and climate protection by pointing to the endangered global food security. Ecological priority areas should be managed again, the entire agenda of the Green Deal should be suspended.


On the other hand, reports of biodiversity loss in the agricultural landscape have received a high level of political attention in the past. “As a result, regulations have been issued in a number of states to bring about a supposed greening of agricultural production without taking into account the need for high area productivity,” said the DLG president. “People’s petition, insect protection package and fertilizer regulation are just a few examples of this.”


Balancing competing goals


However, both developments showed that politically convenient simplification makes the principle of sustainable development absurd. But it is precisely in the complexity of balancing the competing goals that lies the ingenious idea of the concept of sustainable development.


Many actors would always have looked closely at the two areas of sustainability – ecology and food security.


Paetow cited the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 as an example. Directly after the much-quoted agreement on the 2-degree target, this contains the remarkable sentence that all adaptation and prevention measures on climate change should in no case endanger food production.


The concepts and strategies of a transformation of the German and European agricultural sectors therefore remained valid, but they would have to be constantly rethought in the face of changing situations. The basis of many of these strategies, such as 30 percent organic farming, was sufficient availability of food. And according to Paetow, this basis is no longer self-evident in the short and medium term. And this reduces the scope for extensive land use concepts – without calling into question the need for greening.


From these diverse conflicting goals, which Paetow compared to a mathematical problem of the simultaneous optimization of several functions with several variables, there is only one way out: progress and innovation. The DLG president presented three types of innovations that are urgently needed:


The innovation of existing processes that can lead to a higher efficiency of the known processes. For example, with the most modern technology for soil cultivation and plant protection, but also with new, resistant and high-yielding varieties.

Innovations that consist of new approaches. For example, autonomous robots for weed control, which also serve the social aspect of sustainability. Or many processes in organic farming, from mechanical weed control to sustainable crop rotation.

Innovations that have a disruptive effect, rethinking entire value chains. – For example, agro-PV systems and agroforestry systems.

In order for these innovations to be developed and introduced, a new understanding of progress is needed in our society. This can only develop if any form of innovation is recognized as a potential contribution to sustainable development. The process of evaluating and deciding whether an innovation seems eligible often leads to the rejection of development at a too early stage. As an example, Paetow cited the new breeding technologies, in which the different forms of the interventions could well enable a more differentiated approach to regulation. The battle cry “Genetic engineering remains genetic engineering” would reject the entire spectrum of promising technologies from the outset.


Long-term productive plant production will only succeed from the combination of productivity and sustainable use of resources, Paetow emphasized. This was also shown by the diverse innovations in technology, breeding and equipment that will be presented at the DLG field days. Sustainable production, in which there is a balance between the ecological, economic and social aspects, has always poses a certain challenge – both for developers and users, as well as for society.


“But these challenges drive us, they make progress, further development, innovative power possible in the first place,” Paetow concluded.



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