Ladies and gentlemen, Good afternoon to you all. I'd like to thank the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and their partners, for organising this event so meticulously every year.
The Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) is an interesting forum for taking stock of various issues relating to the global agri-food sector.
Today we are placing a particular emphasis on water and food security, which are two strongly inter-related dimensions of our work.
I would like to provide a brief global perspective on where we stand.
We are approaching this debate from a position of strength – namely the hard-won global consensus outlined in the COP21Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We have a strong impetus for action, and a clear framework for moving ahead.
But the challenge remains enormous: 2016 was the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row. The UN estimates that flora and fauna are disappearing at a rate 1,000 times higher than normal; and only 3 trillion trees remain on the planet, where there used to be 6 trillion 40 years ago.
And when it comes to water, the trends are also alarming:
To give just one example, the deterioration in water quality from the process of eutrophication – in other words, from dirty water and agricultural run-off - is estimated to have reduced biodiversity in rivers, lakes and wetlands by about one-third globally, with the largest losses in China, Europe, Japan, South Asia and Southern Africa.
We must continue moving forward, and your leadership is more important than ever. The world is holding its breath to see how new administrations in the USA, and later this year in the largest countries of the European Union, live up to their COP21 obligations.
We must not allow ourselves to be swayed by diminishing ambition in other constituencies, in fact I believe we must restate and reinforce our ambition.
And our ambition must place sustainable water management at the very top of the list. The UN describes water as "a lifeline for humanity," and this is certainly the case in the context of delivering sustainable food security.
As human populations continue to grow rapidly and economies expand, water resources are being depleted and polluted at an alarming rate. Sustainable water management is the explicit target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which calls for a global agriculture able to enhance farming productivity while reducing the impact on the availability and quality of water.
Farming and food production are water-intensive industries, so if we want to meet the global demand for more and better food, we need to continue to develop production systems and technologies to make agriculture more productive and efficient, but also greener and more resource-efficient. And we need to make different economic, political and policy objectives work in harmony to achieve that goal.
At the European Commission, we have recognised that policy initiatives cannot work in isolation to address an issue as fundamental as water. For this reason, EU Environment Commissioner Vella and I established a Task Force on Water to develop a long-term alliance between different Commission services.
Joint work will be initiated to boost necessary investment and spread best practice with a view to foster transition to water sustainability in EU agriculture.
Numerous EU research and innovation funds are already supporting projects to improve both the quantity and quality of our water supply. We have compiled a detailed report outlining farm level adaptation strategies which already exist or can be developed to deal with water scarcity.
We have invested in new technologies such as robots measuring water consumption in wine production, 3D sensors to measure plant growth, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for precision agriculture applications such as water stress monitoring, detection of nutrient deficiencies and crop diseases.
And this year we are backing new projects to tackle the pollution of water sources from the pesticides and fertilisers used in farming systems.
During today's discussion, I would like us to identify similar collaborative approaches.
How can we generate more investment in developing countries to decrease the vulnerability of their agriculture sectors to water issues?
How can we dovetail our research and innovation policies to improve yields and maximise resource efficiency?
How can we optimise water usage in irrigation and recycling?
How can we reduce nutrient leakage and eutrophication?
How can we develop drought-tolerant crops and IT-based technology and forecasting systems?
And how can we reduce food loss and waste?
Today's discussion will feed directly into the drafting of a Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) Communiqué, scheduled for adoption by Ministers tomorrow, titled “Agriculture and Water – Key to Feeding the World”.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas, and with that, let me declare this panel open!