The global health crisis has shed light on the vulnerabilities of our essential sectors and supply chains. The complications of the production of PPE and crucial pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, as well as events such as the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction, highlighted the fissures in global supply chains. This realisation has led to public debates about the need for more local production that also enables more just, sustainable, and resilient societies in Europe.
As part of the Green Screen project, which engages citizens in contemporary issues through films and debates, we explored how the recovery could lead us to more fair and just societies where everyone has equality of opportunity. How can we produce locally and fairly to ensure access to good quality and sustainable products, whilst also protecting workers' rights as we recover from COVID-19?
This month, we featured the film 'When Tomatoes Met Wagner' and held a debate on the agricultural sector and food. The documentary by Greek director Marianna Economou follows the adventures of two cousins who team up with the village grannies to cultivate the tomato seeds they have kept for hundreds of years... with a little help from Wagner's music! During their journey, they face the realities of economic downturn and the expectation of consumers.
Watch now: Food as an essential sector: How do we produce locally and fairly?
This debate explored what our approach should be to our food systems, whose fissures we are now observing due to the growing impact of unsustainable agricultural practices on labour conditions, climate and biodiversity.
The debate was kicked off with an introduction by Mar Garcia, Secretary General of the European Greens, and moderated by Sam Murray, a member of the EGP amendments committee. We discussed how to ensure affordable access to sustainable and organic locally grown food. Sam Murray described the impact of the pandemic on the production and distribution of food and its critical importance:
"Throughout the pandemic, farmers, agroworkers, agro food workers and those involved in the food supply chain, from farm to fork, including those on processing lines, doing packing, truck and train drivers, supermarket workers, have all ensured that we can have access to food. The COVID crisis has shown how we rely on such workers and also allows us to reflect and ask questions about the systems with which we produce food and how local they actually are."
"Conventional agriculture very much depends on chemical inputs, from artificial fertilisers to pesticides, hybrid seeds that you cannot regrow yourself. So actually, the whole agricultural production method is very vulnerable and actually the farmers are very vulnerable because they are depending on all these supplies and then of course it's a system that is globally based on the abuse of workers I would say. We are here in Europe trying to produce for world market prices which is practically not possible if we pay our workers in the correct way. (...) And then it's a system that is basically consuming its basic means of production. I'm talking about soil here. The way we farm today is destroying the soil, it's causing erosion, it's causing desertification, it's causing saltification of the land, so we are losing tens of thousands of hectares of arable land globally every year so we are literally destroying the means of production." - Thomas Waitz, Co-chair, European Green Party
"Argofood workers played an essential role, but not only now, their role is always essential and this is what we tend to forget unfortunately. (...) COVID-19 cast a new light on some of the longstanding and systemic issues that we face in the [meat sector] in terms of precarious employment, in terms of low wages, lack of social security coverage, workers that became infected by COVID and didn't know if they had sick pay or not... (...) The COVID-19 pandemic really must be a wake-up call for the institutions and national governments, really to reveal the sector, to show a new vision for the sector which must be a sustainable one also taking social considerations into account." - Enrico Somaglia, European Federation of Food Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions
"The situation has already been bad for years, in fact since the creation of the WTO which put agriculture in FTA. That really changed the situation for farmers and especially for the small-scale farmers that we are representing (...) We are always fighting against this because it is really destroying peasantry and small-scale food production so this is really what we are fighting against. This vision that it is only trade that is going to solve everything. Problems of access to food, problems in terms of economy... We are not only asking for fair trade deals, we are asking to be able to stop trade deals if they don't help us to have a better life, and to have possibility to have a policy that forbids exports/imports, that protects farmers form this vision of agriculture that depends on trade and import., This is really what we call food sovereignty, and this is what we have been developing over the years. The right for communities to decide on their food systems and to organise the policies to make it happen and be able to have sustainable farming and food production." - Geneviève Savigny, Farmer, Member of the Confedreration paysanne, French Farmers' Union
As part of the Artistic Spot, we showcased the work of Ilan Bettar, a photographer and urban explorer, travels around Europe to photograph its abandoned industrial spaces. Ilan's pictures depict buildings such as clothing factories or electrical goods and wine stores that are mostly empty, although they still show the remnants of their past lives.
The debate reflected on the vulnerabilities of the agricultural sector, and the ways that it is often used as a bargaining chip in Free Trade Agreements in order to bolster other sectors. The discussion untangled how to ensure sustainable practices in Europe and abroad in order to fight against the race to the bottom that occurs when the EU competes on the same market as countries that are using environmentally and socially harmful practices. As Savigny highlights: "We have to see trade the other way around. At the moment we seem to be producing for trade, when trade should be a support but not a core of the food system."
As the Greens, we believe in re-localising certain essential production sectors of our economy, to prioritise internal and regional markets and to shorten supply chains. The Farm to Fork strategy, which promotes more sustainable food production, has already been a big win last month. Now, the Greens are fighting to ensure that the Common Agricultural Policy is revised to reflect the gains made in Farm to Fork and the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The @EP_Agriculture & @EP_Environment vote YES for the #FarmToFork strategy! #Farm2Fork— Greens/EFA in the EU Parliament 🌍 (@GreensEFA) September 10, 2021
🥕a YES for thriving ecosystems, fewer pesticides, healthier food, better farming & reducing hunger
🥕a YES for a food system that benefits ALL of us, farmers, consumers and the environment pic.twitter.com/2E0er7EoXq
Register from 1 November for free tickets to future film screenings! The upcoming session features the documentary film 'The 8th', a story of Irish women and their fight to overturn one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the world. You can enjoy this film screening on The Green Screen platform, which will be made available for 48h next month, on 20-21 November! Free tickets are available, book yours NOW!
You can read more about our resolution 'On the Future of Europe', which inspired The Green Screen project.