Ministries discuss EU field-to-table strategy in Latvia

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The Ministry of Agriculture (ZM) and the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM) have different views on the European Union's (EU) strategy “from field to table”, Latvian Radio reported September 15.

The European Union's field-to-table strategy aims to reduce the use of chemical plant protection products by 50% by 2030, as well as a 20% reduction in fertilizers.

The Ministry of Agriculture considers that the targets for reducing the use of pesticides and increasing biological areas are too ambitious and unattainable in ten years.  The head of the Agriculture Minister's office, Jānis Eglīts, commenting on the ministry's position, said the targets were more declarative than realistic.

"It's not a problem to move toward reducing pesticides, but we need to understand what it applies to. If it is attributed to halving the European Union average, statistically, we're already doing it. If we are talking about halving Latvia's [index], I would like to point out - if, for example, the Finnish reduce their index in half, it will still be more than we are currently using. This has a significant impact on competitiveness," Eglīts said.

Another objective set out in the strategy is to increase the proportion of organic farming to at least 25% of agricultural land over 10 years. In the view of the Ministry of Agriculture, this will be a challenge given the availability of funding in the Common Agricultural Policy.

Maira Dzelzkalēja-Burmistre, representative of the “Farmers Saeima” organisation, also said the targets were too ambitious: "Latvian farmers and our colleagues in neighboring countries and elsewhere in Europe are very worried (..) The first thing that affects all of this is, of course, the market. We don't see a demand for this all right now.

For example, in Latvia, more than 60% of people say they want organic products. But in stores, unfortunately, less than 5% purchase this production. 

However, VARAM representative Alda Ozola said she did not support the wary disposition of ZM  and there is no agreement on national strategy. Chemical plant protection product reduction should be supported, and the issue of funding is on a national level.

The head of the Latvian Farmers Federation, Agrita Hauka, also said that she supports the reduction in the use of pesticides and the increase in organic farming areas. Nor does Gustavs Norkārklis, the head of the Association of Latvian Organic Agriculture, consider the targets set up in the strategy unattainable. He called on the ministry to review the funding allocation to promote “greener” farming.

"If we look at wheat areas alone, they are larger in Latvia than the land used in organic farming. So this is a very real and enforceable goal. Desire is needed to do it. If we calculate how much the Ministry of Agriculture allocated to organic farming from a total of €3.3 billion during the planning period, it is less than 10% of the additional money," Norkārklis said.

Biological methods currently are used on 280 thousand hectares, representing 14.7% of the total utilized agricultural land in Latvia.

The Saeima Environment and Climate Committee agreed after the meeting that it would send a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture calling for a more ambitious look at the green objectives of agricultural policy, creating a national position on the European Union's field-to-table strategy.

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