I thank the committee for the honour and privilege of appearing before it on a subject very close to my professional life, namely food security. We take the issue very seriously here in Europe for the very obvious reason that we must keep our citizens fed. It is one of the primary expectations of our citizens that it can be ensured the public can have safe, high-quality and affordable food available to them. It is the whole purpose of the Common Agricultural Policy, which has its basis in EU treaties. It is one of the original objectives of the treaties because post-war Europe was suffering from food shortages, and we needed to ensure citizens had safe, high-quality, affordable food.
For the past 60 years or so we have been working very hard to deliver on those expectations and dealing with a range of challenges in that period. By and large, the system works well and Europe basically has self-sufficiency in all the main agri-food commodities. We obviously have our challenges, for example, we are heavily dependent on imports of fertilisers and animal feed. When it comes to animal products and the main crops like wheat, barley and corn, we are in a very good position.
That does not mean we are not challenged, and most recently by what is happening in Ukraine. Over the decades we have had various shocks, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, foot-and-mouth disease and various plant pests. The most recent is climate change. We have adapted to these challenges, and in the case of climate change, for example, we put in place the Green Deal and Farm to Fork, containing key priorities to basically ensure our agricultural priorities are sustainable moving forward and basically adapting to this existential threat to society at large, and not just in the agricultural area.
Of course, we have also had to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, which presented its own challenges to agri-food systems. Probably the single biggest lesson from that is just how sophisticated those chains are. There is no question that farmers and primary agricultural production are the bedrock of our agri-food systems and food security but to get the food from the farm to the consumers' table is a long and sophisticated process involving processors, ingredients and inputs such as fertilisers, energy, additives, transport and logistical systems, food processing, abattoirs, meat cutting plants etc. There is also the retail industry itself. Covid-19 taught us that any disruption in any part of the chain can basically have consequences for the entire operation.
We took those lessons into account and developed new strategies.
We presented a communication on food security. Subsequently, we had yet another shock; we have been going through a very difficult period, with the Ukraine. That has also proved a major shock to agrifood chains globally but not necessarily in Europe, I would stress, because we had a very resilient agrifood system. However, the global system was already in a relatively fragile state. It was recovering from the Covid pandemic and especially the shocks to logistical systems and then suddenly, the war in Ukraine effectively removed from global supply chains, Ukrainian wheat, maize and sunflower. These are three commodities for which they had a huge share. The loss of these stocks to global markets led to a further escalation in prices and provoked fundamental questions about how adaptable we are at global level to dealing with food security.
On response, I will highlight three initiatives on the part of the Commission. First and foremost, we had communication on 23 March on food security which identified three strands of policy action. The first is how we deal with food security in Europe itself, arising from what is happening in Ukraine. As I mentioned earlier, we are in a pretty good position on that as we have a good harvest in prospect. The second is how we deal with the situation in Ukraine itself, because the loss of its stocks to world markets was obviously very destabilising. From a humanitarian perspective, Ukrainians have to keep themselves fed and Ukraine borders the EU so we must work very hard to try to allow Ukraine to re-establish itself on global markets. Finally, we must look at the global situation including the humanitarian dimension. Unlike Europe, large parts of the world have structural deficits in key agrifood commodities and were very vulnerable to what happened to Ukraine through, for example, the escalation of prices and in some cases even the availability of agrifood products. We had to work to strengthen their position. That includes improving and increasing their production capacity. The final strand of the immediate course of action to deal with what is happening in Ukraine was the adoption of a communication of so-called solidarity lanes. These are designed to basically compensate for the closure of the Ukrainian Black Sea ports through which they normally ship their commodities. Now, in a very short time, we have defined rail, road and barge alternatives. This is a huge logistical operation. We cannot compensate for the loss of Black Sea ports overnight, but we are working extremely hard with Ukrainian authorities to basically provide outlets to allow its grains and sunflower oil to access more markets, to keep its own agrifood production system ticking over, to provide them with the revenues and to plant new crops in the next harvest cycle. Otherwise a major component of the Ukrainian economy would be fundamentally damaged with both European and global consequences.
In Europe we have a very resilient and powerful system with challenges, notably climate change, but the CAP does deliver on what is expected of it. However, we are also challenged at the international dimension and especially from the circumstances arising from this war in Ukraine. We had the measures in place to basically allow us to address them already this week. I want to reassure the committee that this is being followed at the political level. We had to present our various actions in the agricultural committee in the European Parliament. Next Monday, there will be an agriculture Council meeting where we will discuss the situation on the markets and the impact of what's happening in Ukraine and of course, the European Council itself in its several meetings over the past few months has given a very high priority to this issue of food security. With the Chair’s permission I will stop here at this and I look forward to the committee’s questions.