Time to Change Crop Protection?

Last year, I was asked if I would be prepared to join the Independent Advisory Board of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA).  ECPA represents the pesticide industry in Europe.  After consultation with some of my colleagues I said “yes”.  The reason for agreeing to be part of this advisory board is that ECPA has launched the “Time for Change” initiative, and they say that they are serious about changing their engagement with stakeholders.  This is an opportunity to start talking with a group of industry partners that have a major impact on water quality and biodiversity.

We had one meeting of the advisory board in February this year, which was the first get-together, and the second meeting was earlier this week.  It started with a review of where we ended last time, and a discussion about the next steps.  We were asked to think about the way in which the industry could improve its act, and had a very frank and constructive discussion about the key issues.  In the end, we all agreed that we need to focus on four points:

  • Help ECPA to develop a joint vision of all its Members with some clear objectives, deliverables and indicators for monitoring
  • Identify a number of key issues (hotspots), and jointly with stakeholders tackle these priority issues
  • Obtain a statement from the CEOs of the relevant companies to commit to “Time for Change”
  • Ensure transparency and credibility in research and studies

Apart from these agreed priorities, we talked about many other aspects, and a lot has to do with communication.  In fact, the results of our discussions in February were analysed and a computer-generated model concluded that most of the issues we identified as barriers in making progress could be traced back to the need to communicate better.  The Advisory Board discussed this, and made the point that improving communication is an internal issue, and not something we could add much to.  However, we all agreed that it is important to get the message across that there is a change in the way in which the industry wants to engage with stakeholders and the wider public.

The Advisory Board stressed again that we should jointly identify the real problem cases, and that ECPA and its members should address these issues, in a transparent and constructive manner.  We warned the industry representatives that this could result in our recommending the cessation of production of certain products or compounds, and we were told that they will take our recommendations serious and act upon our advice.  Time will tell how far we can agree on the way that our recommendations will be dealt with.

I made the point that the impact on pesticides on biodiversity is most likely a long-term effect, and that the cumulative effect of pesticide use over time may be key challenge for nature.  Colleagues pointed out that for water quality, the more immediate impact of the cocktail of different agro-chemicals, pharmaceutical waste and organic pollution may be critical.  I am concerned that no-one is currently investigating the impacts of this combination of introduced substances.

The members of the advisory board pointed out that it is important to get a discussion going between these different sectors of industry, and I believe that we must help to make this happen.  It will not be easy, and it will require goodwill from all sides.

In the afternoon, we also reviewed the projects that ECPA is initiating under the “Time to Change” initiative to illustrate what they are trying to do.  Some of these projects are very interesting, and could help to implement the EC Biodiversity Strategy and the EC Water Framework Directive.  I will discuss within IUCN how to inform some of our Members about potential collaborative action.

My next engagement with European Crop Protection Association will be at a meeting in Malta in November, where I am asked to talk about the expectations of stakeholders, especially within the context of “Time for Change”.  It is another opportunity to engage with this important group of industry partners.

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