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EU to pause crop rotation to help fight food crisis

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The European Commission on Friday gave the go-ahead to the renewed suspension of crop rotation rules that require European farmers to leave 1.5 million hectares of arable land lying fallow.

A global grain shortage exacerbated by climate change and Russia’s invasion and blockade of Ukraine has forced EU members to set aside normal crop rotation rules and maximise production.

“The impact of such a measure will depend on the choice made by member states and farmers, but it will maximise the EU’s production capacity for cereals aimed for food products,” the commission said.

The renewed suspension of the rules will have to be approved by member state governments, but national capitals had asked Brussels to draw up the measure so this is seen as a formality.

EU rules on rotating crops to preserve fertility and conserve environmental features keep around 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of land — an area half the size of Belgium — out of production.

With Russia blockading major grain exporter Ukraine’s ports and its invasion forces shelling granaries and arable land, global food prices are soaring and there are fears of famine in parts of Africa.

“The derogation is temporary, limited to claim year 2023, and restricted to what is strictly necessary to address the global food security concerns, arising due to Russian military aggression against Ukraine,” the commission said.

That would mean that the areas put back into production under the exception would need to be sown with crops for human consumption like wheat and not those “typically” used as animal feed like maize and soya.

The exemption will cover the 2023 growing season, but the European Commission insisted that in the longer-term crop rotation would have to resume to protect soil quality and biodiversity.

“The long-term sustainability of our food system is fundamental for food security,” the statement said.

“Even though we are in an extraordinary situation with regard to food security, we need to continue the transition to a resilient and sustainable agricultural sector.”

Separately, the European Union cautiously welcomed agreements reached by Russia and Ukraine with the United Nations and Turkey on resuming grain shipments, calling for their “swift implementation”.