New German commission to study agriculture and food pressures

agriculture Germany fields
Photo: Leopictures/Pixabay

Global agricultural and food systems are undergoing profound change as a result of climate change, loss of biodiversity, changes in land use and shifts in demography.

The DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, German Research Foundation) has set up the Permanent Senate Commission on the Transformation of Agricultural and Food Systems. The commission hopes to gain a better understanding of these changes and present scientifically substantiated information as a basis for tackling the resulting social and political challenges.

The DFG Senate made the decision to establish the Commission in December 2023. Representing the agricultural sciences, social sciences, natural sciences and life sciences, the 18 members have now agreed to work on the Commission, which will be chaired by agricultural biologist Doris Vetterlein.

“What makes the new DFG Senate Commission so unique is its broad range of scientific expertise and the systemic view it takes of the transformation of agricultural and food systems,” said DFG president Katja Becker.

“The committees and institutions that have been set up on a national basis to date mostly only cover a specific sub-sector of agriculture and are often subject to specific directives. The DFG is looking to close this gap by setting up this new Senate Commission. The aim is for it to operate based purely on insights from basic research and consider agricultural and food systems in their entirety,” Becker said.

“The Commission’s task is to continuously process new findings with regard to their scientific, social and political significance, thereby putting it in a position to provide advice that is science-based and interdisciplinary,” Vetterlein said.

“The focus will be on controversial topics and newly emerging issues, and it will also assess the potential and risks that technical innovations involve.”

The Senate Commission will take the entire value chain into consideration – including the natural conditions of the environment such as soil, climate and biodiversity, cultivation and production systems for plants and animals and their integration in the market, trade and demand, and also the food processing industry and consumers with their nutritional needs and eating habits.

The Senate Commission’s planned activities also align with the EU’s “Farm to Fork” strategy, looking at the international integration of supply chains and the economic, social and ecological impact of the transformation, for example.

In addition, the Senate Commission will draw up position papers and represent the DFG in the relevant discussions and hearings. Its activities will be focused on Germany and Europe. However, some of its members are also involved in international bodies such as global expert panels and international food systems networks, so the Commission’s work will be able to draw on international activities as well. In addition, it will aim to utilise different formats of science communication and new participatory approaches.

Alongside the 18 scientific members, the Commission includes guest participants from federal ministries and authorities as well as from the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

The Commission’s first term of office will last six years, with members initially appointed for a period of three years. The Senate Commission has prioritised three topics to start with: ways of achieving food security within planetary boundaries, ways of diversifying the cultivation of crops, and ways of bringing about a societal transformation in the production and consumption of meat and animal products.

The constituent meeting of the Senate Commission is due to take place at the end of April.

Jim Cornall is editor of Future Food Today and publisher at Ayr Coastal Media. He is an award-winning writer, editor, photographer, broadcaster, designer and author. Contact Jim here.