Fairmiles Roundtable: banning airfreighted fresh produce puts millions of livelihoods at risk and does not help Net Zero

Over 200 stakeholders from 34 countries, representing fresh produce suppliers and retailers, academia, policy officers, and the international trade and development sector gathered at a Roundtable discussion on the 30th April in Brussels to debate whether airfreighted fresh produce should be banned in order to achieve Net Zero emissions targets.

The Roundtable was organised in response to recent airfreight bans introduced by several European retailers.

Moderated by Simone van Trier, attendees heard interventions from a range of speakers including Martijn Boelen, Head of Sector Trade at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships at the European Commission, Dr Ebenezer Laryea, Associate Professor in International Sustainable Development Law at the University of Northampton, Clement Tulezi, chair of the Kenyan National Horticulture Taskforce and CEO of Kenya Flower Council, James MacGregor, Development Economist and author of ‘Fair Miles: recharting the food miles map’ published by IIED and Oxfam,  Jeremy Knops, General Delegate at COLEAD,  and Steven Kerignard, Director Supply Chain LECOFRUIT in Madagascar.

During the Roundtable, James MacGregor and Dr Ebenezer Laryea revealed the results of the latest research by Fairmiles which suggests that at least 18 million livelihoods in developing countries are supported by airfreighted horticultural exports into Europe. This includes 1.25 million agricultural jobs and a further 2.4 million jobs in supply chains. The revenue and foreign exchange generated by this sector is needed to allow for domestic investments (including measures to reach Net Zero).

Additional points were heard including:

  • Farmers and vulnerable populations in in developing countries, despite being the least responsible for climate change, are already bearing the brunt of its consequences.
  • This raises the question as to whether it is fair to introduce a policy that will disproportionately affect the livelihoods of these same people, rather than looking at reducing CO2 emissions in other parts of the supply chain.
  • Transport of all food accounts for 1.56% of total global CO2e emissions. Of this, only 0.16% travels by air
  • The majority of airfreighted fresh produce is transported in the bellyhold of passenger planes. Without fresh-produce, these planes would still fly and bellyholds would be filled with other cargo.
  • In light of increasing restrictions, exporters in developing countries may be forced to investigate alternative markets to Europe who may be less demanding and potentially less lucrative for the livelihoods depending on it.

A poll conducted during this Roundtable found an overwhelming majority (96%) voted ‘no’ to the question of whether blanket bans on airfreighted fresh produce are a useful tool to achieve Europe’s climate ambitions.

Participants were also asked to contribute ideas for next steps. Some of the ideas that were put forward included:

  • More published research and data to better understand the key environmental, social and economic impacts so we can inform responsible decision making.
  • Science-Based Climate Justice Net Zero guidelines for policy makers and buyers – ensuring we can make a just transition and limit unintended consequences.
  • More dialogue and engagement with key stakeholders, including retailers, NGOs, consumers.

Jeremy Knops, General Delegate at COLEAD said “Agricultural export value chains are fundamental for low-income countries. Banning airfreight would have devastating consequences, leading to significant job losses and loss of income for some of the most vulnerable people in global supply chains”.

When speaking about measures being taken by the European Union to flight climate change, Martijn Boelen, Head of Sector Trade at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA) at the European Commission, said “What you do not hear is that we (the European Commission), forbid to forbid stuff. We make things more expensive, we make sure there is a level playing field…. but what we will not do, I’ve not seen any proposals ever, is to say ‘ok you cannot fly in fresh produce anymore’”.

Following the Roundtable, Fairmiles will continue to research and raise awareness of the impacts of airfreighted fresh produce, and engage more with key stakeholders to seek how a fair approach to Net Zero emissions can be achieved without unintended consequences on livelihoods.

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