The Swiss Association of Industry and Agriculture (SVIL) has always clearly and unequivocally opposed the decimation of productive agriculture.
Since the 1980s, however, agricultural self-sufficiency has come under increasing pressure:
The WTO demanded an opening of agricultural free trade. The warning voices, which did not want to include agriculture in the free trade negotiations, as had been the case in the previous GATT for decades, were thrown to the wind, along with the historical experience with supply crises. In the WTO, it was now believed that the dismantling of trade barriers would also increase security of supply in the food sector, which is now becoming increasingly clear that this was a mistake that could have been avoided.
Soil and cultivated land loss are increasing in two ways. On the one hand, as a result of too high immigration with resulting settlement growth (jobs, residential areas, supply infrastructures), and on the other hand, as a result of deconversion of cultivated land for nature conservation.
The death of farms because of too low an income and loss of land continues.
An ecology debate has been unilaterally imposed on agriculture by conservation organizations, instead of first addressing the causes of conflict stemming from the overall economy. Green reform organizations believe that the ecology problem can be solved by reducing production and cultivating nature differently. With overall unchanged direct payments and production services, agriculture was forced to provide additional uncompensated care services.
In addition, the ecological critics do not want to recognize any connection between the settlement density in Switzerland and the dwindling biodiversity, but blame this conflict solely on agriculture. More and more, agricultural policy has also become an object for extended demands on the living environment. In the process, ever more drastic ecological regulations are imposed on agriculture, without addressing the macroeconomic causes. Likewise, food-labeling organizations also focus solely on marketing their unique selling points, without addressing the basic macroeconomic conflict of underpaying agriculture.
Because of this multiplicity of conflicts, Parliament has abandoned AP 22 and instructed the Federal Council to present a revised concept by the summer of 2022.
Now, in addition to the already strained relationship between population size and land base, there are additional uncertainties regarding supply through imports. Whereas global supply chains were previously the main argument for deregulation and free trade, against all warnings, supply chains are now the sore point, as evidenced by significant price increases for raw materials.
As a result, the supply situation for Switzerland—with a degree of self-sufficiency of just under 55% and a high proportion of imports—has also become more than uncertain against the background of this increasing turmoil. For these reasons, the call for Plan Wahlen 2.0 (analogous to the 1941 program) to expand the potato and bread grain area and to adjust the diet is political precaution. Today, this means an emergency programmatic re-expansion of arable land, reclamation of extensification areas and no further water expansion projects, which, according to the conservation organizations themselves, deprive agriculture of up to 50,000 hectares of prime irrigable land.
It is now a question of secure supply in the event of disrupted supply, which is what agricultural policy must be pragmatically geared towards.
The same considerations apply to the required reduction path in agriculture. A reduction in input leads to a collapse in production is the wrong move in the looming crisis. It is therefore also wrong to impose a reduction path on agriculture, in addition to the adjustment process that is already underway, while energy and raw material prices are still rising.
In order to be able to replace auxiliary materials with ecological intensification, the current industrialization pressure on agriculture must be eliminated, because this economic pressure prevents ecological intensification. However, this requires a longer-term recultivation process. Measures that stifle production and risk “Cambodian conditions” (relapse into poverty and hunger)—or conversely, adapting our livelihood to economically generated conflicts—are misguided.
Recently, there have been arguments against self-sufficiency that the auxiliary materials, such as fertilizer, diesel and animal feed would have to be imported anyway, which makes self-sufficiency illusory in any case. Such argumentation only contributes to further lowering the currently low level of self-sufficiency in this crisis instead of increasing it. After all, it is precisely fuels and fertilizers from fossil sources that can be stored in sufficient quantities without any problems.
After all, the fact that a few years ago, in national supply law, stockpiling was significantly reduced compared to the past seems to be in line with the “policy” which today causes supply shortages in an inhumane manner.
The ambivalence of ecological criticism of agriculture and industry and the danger of global famine?
More and more urgently the question arises, which agenda does “green politics” follow, especially in the current crisis, when domestic production should be secured and expanded. These organizations criticize productive agriculture and also want to cut off the supply of fossil energy and auxiliary materials.
Not only is fertilizer production being affected, but grain prices are also skyrocketing due to disrupted supply chains as well as unprecedented ownership encroachments in the payments system (sanctions). Wheat prices of $20 per 100 kg in 2020 rose to $34 per 100 kg before February 24, 2022. Meanwhile, the U.S. holds itself harmless as a net importer in the world grain market with its self-printed dollars. Currently, the price continues to rise to $45 per 100 kg, making food unaffordable for millions. Covid has broken supply chains, India is experiencing heat waves, and lack of rainfall in Europe is also depressing yields. Western sanctions are shockingly blocking fossil fuel energy use, from fertilizer to industrial production. Add up all these disruptions, orchestrated at the monetary and legal levels, and devastating supply shortages are occurring.
In contrast, the export share worldwide of Russia and Ukraine combined was about 3% of wheat production before the crisis. It is not the production volume that is the problem but the explosion of prices due to sanctions and disruption of logistics.
And as if that were not enough, an energy supply emergency and destruction of the economy is being “accepted” for reasons of “ecology.”
Who is served by such an approach, which openly targets a supply crisis?
Only industry can reduce entropy in the long run. The sought-after “ecological turnaround” precisely cannot therefore begin with the increase in the price of energy. The reduction of raw material consumption is the long-term product of SME-supported technology development, which is now being damaged by the sanctions policy. These connections are overlooked by the protection organizations!
As far as world food is concerned, the dependencies that have arisen in the grain supply of the Middle East and North Africa are the result of previous global political wars. In Iraq and then Syria, a rich grain culture was destroyed, which also increased the dependence on grain imports in these countries. This, in turn, increased Eastern Europe’s specialization in the production of food commodities.
It is not progressive policy to abuse these internationally created mutual interdependencies as a target for sanctions in order to launch international emergency and politically exploitable shock strategies. Are consumers to experience painfully what it is like when the gas tap is turned off and fertilizer production is interrupted? What explains the long-standing opposition to Nord-Stream 2? Is it about “ecology and climate,” or is it about access to gas resources, or about the question of who should own them “rule-based” in the future?
In this way, the ecological conflict is increasingly becoming a powerless appendage in the economic conflict over resource bases. The destruction of self-sustaining economies creates internationally disruptive dependencies and enormous attack surfaces for interventions, sanctions, etc. Energy embargoes exacerbate international crises.
With supply and hunger crises, every social life is brought into dependence on global behavioral regulation. This is obviously an attempt to continue the previous colonial domination. The fact that an energy embargo is taken in all seriousness as a contribution to sustainability shows the progressive economic and political loss of reality.
The emancipatory power of industry and its ability to solve the entropy problem is being destroyed by this supposedly “ecological” energy policy. It is a regression to an immature society which regulates life, material and energy-flows in an authoritarian and sacrificial way. This process, promoted by the Great Reset, leads to ecodictatorship.
That is unless Europe summons the revolutionary spirit to a confederate Europe, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, against the imperial refeudalization under transatlantic auspices which is spreading more and more.
Hans Bieri is an architect (ETH/SIA) and regional planner and Executive Director of SVIL (Swiss Association of Industry and Agriculture [formerly Innenkolonisation]), which is concerned with the question of food and regional development. He is committed to ensuring that agriculture retains a solid footing in industrial society and that security of supply is not further weakened—in short, a sovereign and still neutral Switzerland.
Featured: “Harvest scene near the village of Ladby,” by Laurits Andersen Ring; painted August 30, 1892.