PM: State of food security “catastrophic”

Photo: Magdalena Kašubová

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš described the country’s agricultural self-sufficiency as catastrophic in a speech to members of the Chamber of Agriculture on Sunday. He also defended the high-levels of rapeseed cultivation, which he said is a victim of mythmaking.

Andrej Babiš, photo: David Sedlecký, CC BY-SA 4.0
In his Sunday meeting with representatives of the Chamber of Agriculture, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš did not mince his words.

He was particularly adamant when it came to Czech food security, describing the current state as “catastrophic”.

The chamber’s president Zdeněk Jandejsek provided data which showed the country only produces 36 to 38 percent of the necessary benchmark for pork, 55 percent of chicken meat, 60 percent of eggs and 85 percent of the required milk.

According to the prime minister, whose government has pledged to increase the country’s self-sufficiency in food production, it is the result of a lack of vision by politicians in the 1990s.

The fundamental mistake, he says, was to sell agricultural land to foreign nationals.

However, some have criticised the government’s self-sufficiency policy.

They say that Mr. Babiš, who is the founder of the country’s largest agriculture conglomerate Agrofert, is simply looking for ways to ensure the holding increases its profit.

Another argument used by opponents such as the deputy-head of the Association of Private Agriculture Jan Štefl is that favouring certain commodities would narrow down the options for small and medium-sized farmers.

“We entered the EU understanding that we will respect the free market. This free market does not make it possible to fund or significantly support the production of commodities that are chosen by the state.”

The policy of self-sufficiency is older than the current ruling coalition and has been present within Czech political debate for many years.

Bohuslav Sobotka’s government of 2013-2017 accepted a plan seeking to enact adequate self-sufficiency by 2030.

Its Agriculture Minister Marián Jurečka argued that it was a logical choice from an ecological, labour and security perspective.

Rapeseed debate

Rapeseed field, photo: Magdalena Kašubová
Aside from criticising the lack of production in what are seen as vital commodities, the prime minister also defended the cultivation of rapeseed, saying it has been the victim of mythmaking including the alleged damage it causes to groundwater.

Mr. Babiš also dismissed claims that there was a vested interest on his side to keep rapeseed production high due to the fact that one of Agrofert’s companies has a large stake in rapeseed to biofuel processing.

The prime minister said that two-thirds of cultivated rapeseed are used in food production, with only half processed for biofuels.

Eurostat data shows that the Czech Republic has the highest share of arable land sown with rapeseed in the EU. Nearly 6 percent ahead of second placed Slovakia the margin is substantial.

It is particularly this level of land coverage, which climatologists such as Zdeněk Žalud would like to see go down to more balanced levels.

He says that while rapeseed’s good water retention and high amount of organic residues negates some of the usual criticism aimed at the plant, the high use of pesticides in its industrial cultivation can have an impact on biodiversity.

“At least 50 percent of beetles like the taste of rapeseed. That means its cultivation requires a high level of pesticide use. Often rapeseed fields are sprayed up to 10 times a season. Because a large amount of the plant is not used for food but for biofuels, pesticides are often used too much and that can cause indirect damage on biodiversity and the bird population.”