On behalf of the entire Federal Government, I would like to welcome you to this special event here at the International Green Week in Berlin. The fact that so many of you have come here shows the willingness to work together and to tap into the agricultural sector’s innovation potential.
As has already been said, the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture is also active as a platform in multilateral endeavours as a whole, ranging from Argentina’s to Japan’s G20 Presidencies. I have heard that you work together very amicably and demonstrate a very high level of flexibility as regards negotiations. That is always important.
Allow me to say that we are trying to be good hosts. Davos for the agricultural sector – all that is missing is the snow and the mountains. But we try to make up for this with other things in Berlin. The city has a great deal to offer, although I admit that you won’t find many agricultural firms here. But for those of you who cannot go a whole day without agriculture, a visit to Domäne Dahlem is an option, even if this open‑air agricultural museum is relatively small. But here at the International Green Week, you can certainly see enough agriculture.
As regards food, your focus is on food security and the fight to eradicate hunger, that is, on an issue that also plays a key role in the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. A world without hunger is one of the express aims. You use innovation potential to connect things that seem mutually exclusive, namely food security with a growing world population and at times overuse of our resources. When it comes to these challenges, digital technology fundamentally offers us far more opportunities than reasons to fear. But as always, if the focus is to remain on people, we need guidance, regulations and a framework in order to safeguard legal certainty and justice.
You have come to Germany. In this country, and probably in your own, too, many farmers wonder what impact structural change, extreme weather, low prices and trade disputes will have on their future. Every farm is also a home. It is very much bound up with emotions, but at the same time, it has to function as a business. That is why we need to work together on this area so that we combine the sustainable use of nature, of our planet, to put it rather more dramatically, with the need to function as a business.
We have many opportunities. Agricultural professions in particular can become extremely appealing thanks to digital transformation. I know that start‑ups are also attending this event. One of the opportunities, naturally, is that hard physical labour will no longer be required. Robots can already do a great deal in dairy sheds. I had a chance to see that for myself last summer. Farm‑management systems can make bookkeeping and planning easier. This means we can already see in some farms today – and not only in large ones – what the future will look like. We in Germany are trying to focus on smaller and medium‑sized farms. In that context, I have to think about the European Commissioners. Naturally, we are following everything that is being discussed in the Commission. I come from a region where larger farms are more common. In other regions, farms tend to be small. However, I don’t want to bore you now with internal EU discussions.
Technical progress is being made in leaps and bounds. For example, every second cow in Northwest Europe will probably be milked by robots by 2025. Digital developments are often achieved even faster. Nevertheless, I think it will be a major problem for us in Germany at any rate to provide support for the generation change. But the better the material and economic situation is in farms, the faster innovations will catch on.
In order for farmers to be able to make use of the opportunities afforded by digital technology in the first place, however, we need to install high‑tech digital infrastructure. We still have a lot to do in Germany in this regard. But I imagine that things are no different in other countries. Julia Klöckner, our Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, is highly committed when it comes to connecting rural regions to the internet – and not just to any sort of internet, but naturally to high‑speed internet as soon as possible. However, as we see that this does not work in rural regions through market‑economy forces alone, we need to provide state support. Precision agriculture, to which I will return later on, is a classic example of how it is not enough simply for a farmhouse to have an internet connection. Farmers need internet access throughout areas measuring many hectares. That is why this is a major topic, as otherwise there would be no need to talk about digital transformation in large sectors.
The traditional sector of agriculture must therefore – this is Germany’s policy at any rate and I think it is the same in almost all countries – be firmly rooted in our countries’ economic and value‑added policies. The agricultural sector also plays a role in preserving the landscape and culture. It plays a part in renewable resources and naturally in food supply.
According to United Nations estimates, an additional two to three billion people will have to be fed by 2050. That means agriculture will have to produce around two‑thirds more. But even today, we have not yet managed to banish hunger from the world. It is therefore becoming increasingly important that we find new paths, also in order to prevent ecological damage or, in cases where farming is still not ecological, to change this. Food production can and must be increased, particularly in countries that we commonly refer to as “developing countries”. That is why we must improve various things.
The first thing we need to improve is access to markets and resources. We also need to make investment conditions better in general. Those of us who live in Europe have our own problems with this. However, I have also looked in depth at the situation in African countries. When you see the interest rates on loans and how difficult it is to get a loan in the first place, you realise that people face huge problems there. Although it does not directly involve agriculture, that is why we launched an initiative called Compact with Africa during our G20‑Presidency in which we encourage countries to make their financial parameters more transparent and to work with the World Bank and IMF. In return, we are improving access to loans and working with the African Development Bank. I think this is very important, as countries cannot allow themselves to become dependent in a way that creates good prospects for perhaps two or three years, but then leaves them in debt and unable to generate sustainable development.
Good governance is vital for good cooperation. You are here as representatives of your countries. If I may take the liberty of saying so, many countries have very different problems to those we face in Europe. The average age is increasing in Europe, whereas in Asia and even more so in Africa, there is an incredibly high percentage of young people, all of whom want to have a future. These young people often have a smartphone before they have permanent access to electricity. If they have a smartphone, then they know what is possible in the world. These young people want to have a say and to be part of an active civil society. That is why I would like to ask you not to fear an active civil society, but rather to make use of the opportunity that people can have a say and determine their own lives. Naturally, people also want security as regards their property rights. And we must do everything we can to create and safeguard social peace.
Secondly, as well as improving access to markets and resources, modern, environmentally responsible methods adapted to regional needs are required in order to boost production and productivity. Innovation is needed to meet increasing demand. I am aware that many countries that still have, so to speak, very family‑oriented and low‑tech farming, are now facing an enormous leap forward. Even if we use development aid to teach people the latest farming methods and show them the best machinery, there are still often conflicts over fields. And questions arise such as whether it is possible to work with a neighbour and their machinery, that is, to merge land, the best way to do this and the risks entailed. This will involve an enormous cultural process in many areas.
We need to face up to digital transformation. Weather forecasts are the easiest part of this. Information is available online about new cultivation methods and pest control. What is also very important is that people can compare prices. They cannot be blackmailed by just anyone. Instead, they can use their internet access to look up prices. Direct marketing becomes far more straightforward. AMIS, the G20 Agricultural Market Information System, has become a pretty good instrument for making harvest forecasts and prices for rice, corn, wheat and soya more transparent and helping to curb price fluctuations, thus preventing famine to a certain extent.
None of this – and that, too, is becoming apparent – can be achieved without international cooperation. Those who believe they can resolve all these issues for their country on their own and cheat others will end in abysmal failure. I firmly believe that. That is why it is so important that your event is also a good example of international cooperation. Naturally, there is no one‑size‑fits‑all solution. The problems are completely different, not only between countries in the North and South for example, but also in the countries themselves, as I already showed, using Germany as an example. That means we need to find solutions for small, medium and huge farms.
Naturally, we also need to ensure that we preserve biodiversity and the ability of soil and ecosystems to regenerate. If we look at the species extinction that can be seen worldwide, we see it is a huge topic, including here in Germany.
Climate change is reaching ever‑larger parts of the world. Africans have known for a long time what this means in their countries, particularly in the Sahel. But here in Germany, too, we are also seeing that climate change is having a huge impact on conditions. This is not shown by a single summer, but in the meantime we can definitely see how certain types of plants no longer thrive in some regions in Germany the way they did a century ago. That is why we can already say that climate change is the ecological challenge of our era.
And that is why we also want to do our utmost to ensure that we can adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement. Sustainable agriculture will be one element in this. The aim is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less. However, we must honestly say that not all sectors can make the same contribution. For the agricultural sector, for example, it is not so easy to reduce CO2 emissions, particularly in animal farming. We now have very interesting research methods that show how food and CO2 emissions are connected. We still have a long way to go. If we say that economies must be almost entirely decarbonised by the end of this century, this means agriculture is one of the sectors that will have to play a part here until the end.
Another important question, one that is a huge concern for us with regard to large parts of the world, is our approach to our forests. As long as wood is still needed for heating, there can be no talk of ecological sustainability. That is why the topic of renewable energies and agriculture is naturally extremely important.
Intensive farming, involving a high nitrogen input and the extensive use of pesticides, is of course also a problem. Precision agriculture is the ideal solution here. Digital technology, which can be both a curse and a boon, fosters individualisation all over the world. In some cases, we no longer reach people at all because everyone has their own sources of information where they exchange views. At the same time, this technology enables us to look at each and every plant and to enter information on specific plants, thus reducing the need for fertilisers and making forecasts possible. When artificial intelligence and its forecasting methods are added to the mix, we will be able to do absolutely wonderful things that still seem very unlikely to us today. Julia Klöckner just told me how certain pests can be detected at an early stage and how individual plants can be fertilised. Naturally, that is something I very much welcome. If drones make precision farming possible, consumers stand to benefit in the end.
Of course, digital technology also affects all kinds of marketing methods. This can help to prevent the losses that occur even in countries where sadly many people still do not have enough to eat.
Naturally, we also point out the risks. You do the same thing when you ask who owns data and who is responsible for it. Whoever controls data will essentially decide in the future where value‑added will be generated, as whoever holds the data will be able to set the prices. That is why we also need to create rules on competition in the data sector. We need to put security measures in place for users. We also hear a lot of complaints in Europe – I say this very frankly – because we sometimes tend to choose bureaucratic solutions. But fundamentally, our General Data Protection Regulation, with certain security aims, is really of the utmost importance. We also need to find a global solution here. And you, who have come here in such great numbers today, will play a role in this.
On the one hand, therefore, you are in the midst of an enormous development with huge potential and, if we think about what things were like 50 years ago, fantastic and scarcely conceivable possibilities. On the other hand, however, you are also in the midst of a development in which people who have nothing whatsoever to do with agriculture may end up owning all of the relevant data merely because they run a platform, thus enabling them to take over a large part of value‑added from the agricultural sector. This forum is very helpful as regards finding the right balance between seeing the needs of the agricultural sector and putting the focus on people who work in this sector. That is why I was very happy to come here and to pay what you might call an unorthodox visit to the International Green Week. Julia Klöckner commended this forum to me and I am very glad that I accepted the invitation.
I hope that you will have excellent discussions, produce a good final communiqué and make good progress. And in the brief time that your host may allot you for leisure activities, I hope you will have a chance to enjoy the German capital, Berlin. It has been a privilege to speak to you. Thank you very much indeed.