More solid self-sufficiency is the order of the day

From household stocks to a sound agricultural policy

by Dr iur. Marianne Wüthrich

It’s all over town: When there is need, the borderless world of global corporations is incapable of contributing to humane solutions in the various countries. After all, that is not their most urgent goal. Their priority, even in times of pandemics, remains the re-increase of their profits. To this end, they play down the continuing risk of infection with COVID-19 and press for a speedier removal of state measures.
    For us humans, for the majority of our politicians and entrepreneurs anchored in the country, other issues are at the forefront, such as improving self-sufficiency in times of crisis. According to the experience of this spring, the necessary increase in healthcare provision is already underway. But what about the other vital areas – food, energy, security?

    These issues deserve to be widely discussed and tackled. In recent months it has been confirmed that it must be and remain the responsibility of nation states to plan ahead for their populations and to act in the crisis. The “Stop Palm Oil!” referendum, which was submitted on 22 June, is a welcome reinforcement of this way of thinking, combined with a view far beyond one’s own garden fence.

In Switzerland and other wealthy countries we are used to being able to buy everything we need at any time. What is not produced domestically is imported. The Corona pandemic has given us a salutary shock in this respect. Today, let us first deal with what must be the first thing available in a state of emergency: food and drinking water.

Insufficient private stocks in many households

According to Article 102 of the Federal Constitution, the Confederation must ensure the provision of national economic supply in all vital areas:

Art. 102 National economic supply

  1. The Confederation shall ensure that the country is supplied with essential goods and services in the event of the threat of politico-military strife or war, or of severe shortages that the economy cannot by itself counteract. It shall take precautionary measures to address these matters.
  2. In exercising its powers under this Article, it may if necessary depart from the principle of economic freedom.

The Confederation fulfils this duty on the one hand by recommending to the population to hold stocks for a bridging period and on the other hand by guaranteeing compulsory stocks of essential products.
   
According to the Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES), stocks for households are required, for example, in the event that the “well-functioning distribution system [...] would fail due to blocked roads or for other reasons”. According to the brochure “Kluger Rat – Notvorrat” (wise council – emergency stockpiles) (edition February 2017), the FONES recommends keeping drinks for three days (9 litres of water + other drinks) per person, as well as a food supply for seven days, including uncooked consumables. In addition, per household one battery-powered radio, torches and candles with matches, necessary medication and hygiene articles as well as cash.
   
A rather scarce emergency equipment, one must note: Drinks only for three days? And: In how many households is there probably a radio that is not dependent on sockets and the Internet? Despite these low specifications, a survey by Agroscope1 in 2018 revealed “that food and, above all, drinking water supplies are below the recommendations in larger sections of the population”. Around a third of those surveyed do not have food in stock for seven days and even 70 per cent do not have enough drinks for three days! Less than 20 per cent fear a crisis in the food supply (this number is likely to have grown in times of corona). We do not know how many battery-powered radio receivers exist: Agroscope merely states that most of the inhabitants can be reached via public TV and radio stations, the younger ones and a part of the over-65s can also be reached via the Internet or social media.2
   
No one in the Federal Office for National Economic Supply seems to consider a longer lasting power failure or even an Internet ultimate MCA. And a traffic blockade as the solely mentioned cause of a food bottleneck seems to trivialise the problem. As far as drinking water is concerned, we Swiss have the great privilege of having enough of it. In the past, everyone had a well nearby where one could fetch water in case of emergency. But have you noticed that in recent years most public wells in villages and towns have effectively been taken out of service: marked with “no drinking water” and no longer maintained, with dirty spouts? We have not yet been informed about the cause and effects of this process. The most vital of all issues, the secure supply of drinking water, is one that needs to be addressed in particular.
   
These are just a few of the critical remarks of a layperson. It is urgent that the Federal Office for National Economic Supply and we citizens take a closer look at the emergency stockpile and that the open questions addressed here are also included.

Cooperatively organised
Swiss compulsory stockholding

The compulsory stockpiles under the Federal Constitution are not in the hands of the Confederation, but are held decentrally in the Swiss manner by private companies organised as cooperatives: “The réservesuisse cooperative has 117 member companies. All members of the cooperative have concluded a compulsory stockholding agreement for food and animal feed with the Confederation in the interests of national economic supply”. In addition to large corporations such as Migros, Coop and Nestlé, members include many grain mills, regional agricultural cooperatives (Landi), the Rupperswil Sugar Mill and other food traders and processing companies (https://www.reservesuisse.ch). Sugar, rice, edible oils and fats, coffee, cereals for human consumption and feed grain (stocks for three to four months each) are subject to compulsory storage. In addition, most traders keep their own reserves to about the same extent.
   
In addition, the Carbura (compulsory stockholding organisation of the Swiss petroleum industry) organises the storage of petrol, diesel and heating oils as well as aviation kerosene. Helvecura is responsible for the compulsory stockpiles of remedies such as antibiotics. Agricura organises the compulsory stocks of nitrogen fertilisers, and natural gas for heating and cooking as well as for industry and commerce is stored by Provisiogas. (https://www.reservesuisse.ch)

Food imports cannot replace the high-quality
self-sufficiency provided by local agriculture

Since the corona pandemic many people have become more aware of how important Swiss farmers are for us. With their products they make an invaluable contribution to healthy and sustainable nutrition. While shops and borders were partially closed, they went about their business as usual. More people than usual are now using direct agricultural sales. The farm shops are booming, and the Saturday markets, where the crunchiest salads and the finest strawberries and asparagus are often available, are all the more appreciated after being closed for a longer period of time: customers wait patiently at a reasonable distance until it is their turn to shop, and then queue up again afterwards to pay.
   
The fact that the importance of domestic production is clearly on the table in times of pandemic gives a new impetus to farmers and their organisations. The Swiss Farmers’ Union was able to announce in a press release on 1 April: “The Federal Office for National Economic Supply has confirmed to the Swiss Farmers’ Union (SBV) in a letter and after an appropriate intervention that the farms are ‘systemically relevant’ for the supply of the country with vital goods and services in the current corona exceptional situation. The freedom of movement required to carry out their work is thus guaranteed. This would also be the case if the Confederation were to further tighten the measures.”
   
The advocates of (agricultural) free trade, on the other hand, find it very inconvenient that the domestic food production of these days has proven to be indispensable. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 14 May 2020, for example, headlines: “Well-filled compulsory stocks instead of autarky [...]”.3 The authors thus construct a contrast between state-organised emergency reserves and self-sufficiency that does not exist. The term “autarky” also implies that anyone believes that Switzerland can maintain itself completely on its own, which is absurd. In reality the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” is annoyed that since the pandemic everyone has had to realise what we have in our farmers: “Agricultural self-sufficiency has gained new weight in the current corona crisis. In recent weeks numerous countries have imposed export restrictions or even bans on exports. This has also led to delays in imports in Switzerland, for example of raw materials such as rice, grain or coffee. The agricultural lobby, which has been calling for an increase in the degree of self-sufficiency for some time now and, under the guise of security of supply, is rejecting the new agricultural policy (AP22+), was quick to react.” However, the debate on increasing the degree of self-sufficiency in food is too short, according to the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”, because Switzerland is dependent on imports for basic foodstuffs as well as for seeds, concentrated feed and machinery.
   
Of course, Switzerland is dependent on imports, just like any other country, and as a small state and a landlocked country with few natural resources, it is particularly so. This is nothing new. However, we are not distracted by the fact that the imperative of the hour is not the borderless free agricultural market, but the maintenance and strengthening of Swiss farms as a prerequisite for the highest possible level of food self-sufficiency. This is also very feasible – if it is really what we are striving for. Let’s take a closer look at this. 

Agricultural Policy 22+ heading towards
free agricultural trade – also with the EU

Most citizens were well aware of the systemic relevance of indigenous agriculture and the importance of the highest possible self-sufficiency with food long before corona. Because Federal Councilor Johann Schneider-Ammann had promised before the vote on food security that the level of self-sufficiency would remain at 60 per cent, many eligible voters cast a yes in the ballot box on 24 September 2017.4
   
In reality, however, the Federal Council is aiming in the opposite direction with its (already planned) Agricultural Policy 22+: Stricter ecological requirements should apply to domestic production, while the agricultural market is increasingly being “opened” to foreign products.5
   
This would lead to flooding with foreign products, which can already be offered cheaper today due to cheaper production costs. According to the newspaper “Der Schweizer Bauer”, Agricultural Policy 22+ and the current free trade agreements would mean that the share of domestic production in consumption would fall to 52 per cent by 2025. The newspaper summarizes the difficult situation in Swiss agriculture in a few words: “AP 22+: Produce less food in Switzerland, but import it without restrictions from all over the world.”6 Or in the debunking wording of the Federal Council: “By importing food, the indigenous ecosystems could be  relieved.”7 
   
The agricultural agreement with the EU is currently being kept silent.. If the heads of large corporations (mostly not rooted in Switzerland) and the EU turbos in politics and federal administration bring the institutional framework agreement Switzerland-EU through the referendum, the agricultural agreement will soon be on the table, just like the long-planned electricity agreement.
   
With an emphasis on “if” – we Swiss don’t cut the branch we’re sitting on! We will surely not serve the Swiss model, which is blessed for the country and its people, for the centralist and undemocratic EU colossus.     •


1  Agroscope is the Swiss centre of excellence for agricultural research, and is affiliated with the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG).
2 Zimmermann, Albert; Pescia, Gabriel. “Notvorrat:aktuelle Situation und Einflusskriterien.” Editor: Agroscope (ordering party: Federal Office for National Economic Supply FONES). 2018, p.4
3  Gratwohl, Natalie; Rütti, Nicole. “Gut gefüllte Pflichtlager statt Autarkie: wie die Lebensmittelversorgung in der Krise effizient geregelt wird.”, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 14 May 2020
4  Chefredaktor Daniel Salzmann. “Das gebrochene Versprechen”, in: Der Schweizer Bauer from 16 May 2020
5 See Botschaft des Bundesrates zur Weiterentwicklung der Agrarpolitik ab 2022 (AP22+) from 12 February 2020 (https://www.blw.admin.ch/blw/de/home/politik/agrarpolitik/ap22plus.html)
6  Chefredaktor Daniel Salzmann. «Das gebrochene Versprechen», in: Der Schweizer Bauer from 16 May 2020
7  Vonplon, David. “In der Corona-Krise: Bauern wollen Agrarreform des Bundesrats stoppen”, in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 31 March 2020

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