Parliamentary Breakfast

30 January 2020
European Parliament
Societal metabolism
Systems approach
Water-energy-food nexus

A systems perspective on sustainable agriculture – the new ‘MAGIC’ approach | European Parliament | Brussels | 30 January 2020 

Sheila Ritchie, MEP of the Renew Europe Group and member of the AGRI Committee hosted a ‘MAGIC’ breakfast at the European Parliament in Brussels. The meeting explored how MAGIC can bring a new approach to understanding agriculture as part of an interconnected ‘nexus’ of a complex, dynamic and contested social-ecological system. The presenters were Dr. Keith Matthews and Dr. Kerry Waylen from the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, and Professor Mario Giampietro from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain. 

Adopting a systems perspective is essential to help agriculture contribute to Europe’s own policy objectives and also international targets such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Policy-making in this ‘nexus’ is very challenging and therefore can benefit from new, more holistic, analytical approaches to identify where change is needed, and to better anticipate the consequences of potential interventions. The MAGIC researchers report:

Using examples from MAGIC, we showed how this can be done; our Societal Metabolism approach can characterise system sustainability across scales and levels, and from ‘farm to fork’, i.e. production through to consumption. Doing so highlights potentially unexpected consequences, e.g. those arising from a shift to healthier diets, and signals the need for closer integration of the Common Agricultural Policy with initiatives for water, energy and the circular economy.

Our analysis of agricultural production and supply systems highlights environmental pressures generated by consumption, and that further pressures and impacts within Europe are avoided by using imported goods. The footprints of these imports can have serious negative environmental consequences outside of the EU, so this process of ‘externalisation’ has implications for both Europe’s food security and its contribution to other countries’ Sustainable Development. 

We believe the insights of MAGIC indicate that transformative change may be needed to achieve EU policy goals and international commitments, yet any changes and innovations in the agri-food system must be carefully appraised in terms of multiple environmental consequences. 

The event at the European Parliament showed how projects such as MAGIC can suggest changes in metrics, methods, monitoring and also provide spaces for reflection and reframing the debate.

See also the news item of The James Hutton Institute