Territorial food projects, levers for the agroecological transition of territories

The decrease in the number of farmers, the expansion of farms, the impoverishment of farmers, but also climate change are all threats that weigh on the agricultural sector today. Increasing the food resilience of territories requires the diversification and relocation of sectors to produce, process, distribute and market food products.

Occupying nearly two-thirds of the national territory, agriculture represents a key issue in the ecological transition. The sector is the second source of GHG emissions in France (19% of the national total and 85 MtCO2 eq. emitted in 2019)¹ The spreading of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers also generates atmospheric pollutants which greatly degrade the quality air and harm biodiversity by reducing the populations of insects, rodents or birds. In just fifteen years: a third of the birds in the French countryside have disappeared. The health crisis of 2020, and more recently the conflict unfolding in Ukraine have shown the vulnerability of our food system in the event of sudden events. The decrease in the number of farmers, the expansion of farms, the impoverishment of farmers, but also climate change are all threats that weigh on the agricultural sector today. Increasing the food resilience of territories requires the diversification and relocation of sectors to produce, process, distribute and market food products.

The future law for agriculture, food and forestry of October 13, 2014 (art. 39) established the Territorial Food Projects (PAT) which aim to federate the actors of the agri-food sector of a territory in an approach aimed at developing sustainable agriculture and quality food, accessible to all. They intend to have an impact on the functioning of the food system in the territory, by bringing together producers, processors, distributors and consumers to reterritorialize food. This approach enables local authorities to engage in a cross-cutting and systemic approach at the crossroads of issues of health, precariousness, local employment, development, biodiversity, the fight against climate change and education. ..

The recent “Covid-19” health crisis has highlighted the lack of resilience in our food systems, which are highly dependent on the availability of products, labor and our ability to move around. According to the information report on short circuits and the relocation of agricultural and food sectors2a product travels an average of 3,000 km before reaching our plate, i.e. 25% more than in 1980. Our food system is therefore largely dependent on fossil fuels, the price of which is expected to increase further in the years to come, weakening the holdings.

The agricultural sector is responsible for 19% of France’s GHG emissions. These emissions are explained by agricultural releases of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from nitrogen fertilizers, but also by changes in land use and deforestation, which release carbon dioxide (CO2 ) in the air. The National Low Carbon Strategy (SNBC), adopted in 2015 projects a halving of greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector by 2050. The development of agroecological practices can contribute to this objective by limiting the use of inputs chemicals and by promoting the development of the biodiversity necessary for plant growth. A soil that is richer in plant species is more resilient to bad weather because the abundance of roots and the micro-organisms that surround them help maintain soil and nutrients and store carbon.

Recreating nurturing landscapes also involves strengthening the productive capacities of territories by preserving agricultural land whose surface has been declining for several decades. In fifty years, the useful agricultural area has thus decreased by 10.2%. In 2021, 33,600 hectares of land have thus been sold to be urbanized. According to the 2021 land price atlas, published by the National Federation of SAFER3, this is the highest level for ten years. The main cause of this decline is the artificialization of the soil, that is to say the transformation of natural or agricultural spaces into artificialized spaces (roads, housing, commercial areas). Beyond the question of land remains the question of their transmission. According to the agricultural social mutuality (MSA), half of the farmers will retire in the next 10 years and many have no identified successors for the farms. This context raises both strategic questions about the organization of the agricultural economy of tomorrow, but also opens up great opportunities for the territory to reinvent its agricultural model, in connection with the ecological transition.

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A profound transformation of the food system is necessary to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, limit the use of chemical inputs and pesticides and improve the quality of life and income of farmers. Territorial Food Projects (PAT) can participate in these changes by bringing together producers, processors, distributors, local authorities and consumers. They are co-constructed with all food stakeholders with the aim of promoting sustainable agriculture and quality food.

The PATs involve the conduct of territorial diagnoses which assess local agricultural production, food needs and identify the socio-economic and environmental assets and constraints of the territory. In view of these needs, a strategy and an action plan are then drawn up aimed at strengthening local supply, preserving agricultural land and facilitating the installation of farmers in the territory. This approach by the territorial food system as a whole implies a consultation between various actors with sometimes divergent issues to define a shared strategy and partnership actions capable of promoting sustainable local agriculture (respectful of the environment, profitable, job creation, etc.). It is essential to accompany a territorial dynamic and to know the difficulties and the levers of action for the relocation of food.

The Territorial Food Project thus represents a real territorial project that makes it possible to re-question the coherence and articulation of the various public policies carried out by the community and its partners in terms of agriculture and food, but also local development, education, health, employment and development. It involves an integrated approach that mobilizes varied and cross-cutting themes:

  • The local economy: by allowing the structuring of local sectorsthe reconciliation from producer and consumer and the enhancement of agriculture as a resource of the territory;
  • Social accessibility : by developing the conditions of accessibility to healthy quality food and the establishment of mechanisms for fight against food insecurity
  • education: over there public awareness to the evolution of dietary behavior towards healthier and environmentally sustainable practices
  • Health: in questioning the quality and origin of products. Pesticides, ultra-processed products, packaging and additives play a role in the development of diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.
  • Environmental: by the valuation of agroecological practices allowing the preservation of biodiversity, the quality of agricultural soils and the reduction of atmospheric emissions and of greenhouse gas as well as the development short local circuits and the reduction of road transport.
  • Reduction of waste & wastage: by optimizing bio waste and commitment to action against food waste
  • Cultures, gastronomy and tourism: over there enhancement of landscapes and agricultural heritage, gourmet and local know-how.

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The renewal of the agricultural population, the preservation of land, the diversity of crops and the deployment of agroecological practices today form the necessary conditions for the development of a resilient agricultural system, capable of feeding the population and coping with crises and to climate vulnerabilities. The territorial food projects can thus promote the food sovereignty of the territories allowing the deployment of agro-ecological practices preserving biodiversity and limiting the impact on climate change.

¹ Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture – The environment in France (developpement-durable.gouv.fr)

2 N° 2942 – Information report by Mrs Brigitte Allain and Mr Jean-Charles Taugourdeau tabled pursuant to Article 145 of the Rules of Procedure, by the Economic Affairs Committee on short circuits and the relocation of agricultural and food sectors (assembly -nationale.fr).

3 Agricultural land: houses in the countryside still in vogue, artificialization is resuming (banquedeterritoires.fr)

– Report on the state of the environment The site – notre-environnement.gouv.fr

– Agricultural land: houses in the countryside still in vogue, land take is resuming (banquedeterritoires.fr)

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