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CEJA column, Issue 29, October 2016

In this month’s regular column from CEJA – the European Council of Young Farmers – Vice-President, Alice Cerutti talks about her role and her vision for the farming sector.

MF: Can you give us some background on yourself.

AC: I’m 33 and took over running my grandparents’ family farm ‘Cascina Oschiena’ in Italy in 2008, since when I’ve been growing rice. But I’ve not always been an active rice farmer. Initially I studied economics before moving to New York to work for the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce. I then moved into marketing for a leading Italian chocolate company. It was at this time that I met other young farmers and realised the opportunities of the agricultural sector and how fortunate I was to already be part of a family farm. Now running Cascina Oschiena, I continue to learn something new each day and I’ve never regretted my career change. We grow rice in accordance with sustainable agriculture practices and farm using integrated pest management techniques. We implement social responsibility practices, and our agronomic choices create a cultivation system that guarantees high-quality produce as well as environmental and biodiversity protection.

MF: How are you involved with CEJA?

AC: I’ve been actively involved in CEJA since 2008. In 2010, I began participating as a CEJA representative at the European Commission’s Civil Dialogue Group meetings on Quality and Promotion. Additionally, my work over the years has included helping to organise CEJA's Workshop on Quality event in Italy in 2010. I’ve represented CEJA on its Mentoring Women for Entrepreneurship project and been involved in writing CEJA’s Green Paper on Promotion. As a CEJA Vice-President, I am responsible for the budget and represent CEJA at the Civil Dialogue Group meetings on Direct Payments and Greening.

MF: What are your aspirations as Vice-President for CEJA?

AC: I’d like to help CEJA convince the EU institutions to introduce legislation to improve the functioning of the food supply chain for a more fair, financially-viable and sustainable EU farming sector. This is a shared challenge amongst young farmers across Europe. Unfair trading practices in the food supply chain are a fundamental barrier to improving the chances of young farmers already established in the agricultural sector who face price fluctuations and market volatility. Unfair trading also affects ambitious, well-educated and business-minded young people considering a career in agriculture and who struggle to find access to land and credit. Having worked both at production and distribution levels in the food chain, I am well aware of the enormity of the challenges related to its inequalities. Representing over two million young farmers, CEJA’s knowledge, wide point of view, and our tendency towards innovation and transparency needs to improve the functioning of the food supply chain. This can be achieved by increasing the bargaining power of farmers through the fostering of cooperation, boosting consumer information, shortening supply chains and introducing legislation and regulation to improve fairness in the food chain.

MF: What is the role of young people in this?

AC: The role and duty of young people in our sector is strategic – young people are more innovative and more accepting of change. Young farmers are the answer to the current need of the world and its population to produce more with less. As we look towards tomorrow, world scenarios are set to become more complex. Demand for food is expected to increase in conjunction with higher pressures on limited resources. This will require a safe and sustainable agriculture sector across Europe and the rest of the globe. As young farmers and members of CEJA, we have the opportunity to play an important role in the world of tomorrow. We are able to collaborate and share knowledge, challenges and solutions, in order to shape the future of agricultural policy for a better farming sector in Europe and worldwide.

MF: What are the challenges for young famers?

AC: Despite young farmers’ strategic role and duty, they are vulnerable within the agricultural sector. They face huge challenges in gaining access to land and credit to enter into the sector, and,once established are more susceptible to price volatility and market crises, such as the one we are currently experiencing. In Brussels and elsewhere around Europe, as a Vice-President I give a voice to young farmers’ current needs so that they are directly targeted in European policy. As a CEJA Vice-President I help ensure that young farmers across Europe are able to stay afloat in times of crises and that they are able to continue to invest, innovate and act as custodians of the land, producing more with less and using sustainable methods to safeguard rural landscape and biodiversity.

MF: If you could give one message to the public about agriculture and young farmers what would it be?

AC: I would say that now, more than ever, innovation is the key for the agricultural sector. Using innovative farming practices, young farmers will be able to overcome the challenges of producing sufficient and healthy food for the current and future population whilst simultaneously confronting volatile markets, increasingly extreme weather conditions and tackling the need for higher standards of safeguarding the environment. Through informed choices, decision makers and consumers need to engage with and support young farmers so that they are able to produce high-quality produce in an efficient and sustainable manner.

MF: What would you like to see as your legacy of office?

AC: I would like to see that I have helped increase the number of young farmers across Europe and that they continue to be at the forefront of innovation in the agricultural sector. My hope is that with the support of concrete risk management and insurance tools they can operate in a fair and transparent food chain with a strong connection to consumers, society and the environment.

If you would like If you would like to get in touch with Alice Cerutti or CEJA, email allusers@ceja.eu

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