France could satisfy more than 100% of its needs (against 60% today)

The objective is now at the top of most food policy proposals: in terms of food, France must seek to be sovereign, we hear from all sides since the health crisis and now the war in Ukraine. Today, however, France is far from autonomous. A major exporter, but also a major importer, the country today only provides 60% of the food needed to satisfy the consumption of its inhabitants, explains a study by the think tank Utopies.

This overall rate – calculated in value and not in volume – is also mainly driven by food processing, which, taken alone, covers nearly three quarters (72%) of the needs for processed products of the French population. Agricultural production provides less than half of the consumption of raw agricultural products (43%), while the latter only weigh 7% in the meals of the French.

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However, France would have the means of a much higher autonomy, of 108%, considers the study. The agricultural upstream, that is to say the production – of which 26% of the products are today exported directly or being incorporated into processed foods – could provide 98% of the production necessary to satisfy internal demand. Food processing, today exported at 24%, could cover 114% of needs.

Regional autonomy less than national

This gap between potential and reality also emerges when we analyze the – marked – differences between sectors and regions.

“If we consider the agricultural upstream, each of the French sectors is able to meet more than 60% of national demand, and the majority of them even turn out to be in surplus”, notes the study. “As for the agro-food processing sectors, ¾ would have the capacity to supply 100% of national consumption”.

However, the rates of autonomy by sector oscillate between 22% for the cultivation of fruits and 90% for the manufacture of cereals for breakfast.

As for the regions, on average, the potential for autonomy reaches 131% for agricultural production and 140% for agri-food processing. If 100% of production were geared towards regional demand, only four regions would not have the productive capacity to cover all of their consumption of agricultural and processed products (Île-de-France, Provence Alpes Côte d Azur, Corsica and Auvergne Rhône-Alpes for agricultural upstream). Yet today, none exceeds national food self-sufficiency: on average, regional food self-sufficiency is 35%, and self-sufficiency rates vary between 1% for Île-de-France and 30% for Brittany with regard to agricultural production, and between 30% for Île-de-France and 56% for Auvergne Rhône-Alpes in terms of agri-food processing.

47% of the agricultural production of French regions is indeed exported, 29% to other regions and 71% internationally. As for processed products, 60% leave their regional borders and more than half (55%) are exported abroad.

A diversity of food activities to be increased

France’s lack of autonomy also concerns factors of production, since almost all raw materials for fossil fuels, but also three quarters of chemical inputs and agricultural and agri-food equipment, 61% of metal packaging (61% ) and more than 40% of plastic and cardboard packaging is imported, points out Utopies.

This situation limits France’s capacity for resilience in the face of various hazards (climatic, natural, industrial, health, etc.) likely to disrupt the functioning of its food system. Especially since the diversity of food activities (agricultural, agri-food and related industries) of the country and its regions can still be improved. This diversity is crucial because it facilitates the exchange of materials and skills and is likely to increase local production and deal with the risk of shortages. Thus Utopie estimates this diversity at 82.3% for the whole country compared to the maximum possible diversity. For the regions, its rate varies between 67.6% in Île-de-France and 81.9% in Hauts-de-France.

The urgency of protecting agricultural land

How then to maximize production geared towards domestic needs, at national but even more regional level, and consolidate the sectors that have an essential place in daily food, asks Utopies? The actions must be targeted according to the sectors by distinguishing their categories: for example, those “critical” – such as the cultivation of fruits and vegetables and fishing – which do not produce enough to meet national consumption and of which more than 25% of production is exported. Or those of support” – such as breeding – which are in the exact opposite situation.

But in general, the report insists on the need to activate several levers, by coordinating the actions of the State and local authorities. First of all, protect or even develop agricultural land, which has been halved since 1950, the price of which has increased by 50% in 20 years and which is increasingly concentrated in a decreasing number of farms. The territories can play an important role, through the development of local development plans and schemes.

The need to improve farmers’ incomes

Utopies also recalls the urgency of better sharing value throughout the food chain, in order to contain the collapse of agricultural employment, when one in two farmers is about to retire by 2026. , and that permanent agricultural jobs have increased from 2.3 million in 1970 to 659,000 in 2020. An objective pursued by the Egalim 1 and 2 laws adopted under Emmanuel Macron’s first term, but still not achieved.

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“To reach an average target income of two Smics per farm, it would be necessary, on average, to increase the amount paid to farmers by 10% to 15%, all sectors combined”, calculates Utopies.

“If this increase were passed on equally between the agri-food industries, the intermediaries and the final consumer, the agri-food industries would see a 2.6% drop in their added value, the intermediaries (carriers, distributors) would see their margins fall by 1 .7% and consumers would see the price of food increased by 0.7%”, estimates the think tank.

But the consulting firm also insists on the need to diversify the sources of income for producers, by several means. First of all, the integration of the processing stage on the farm, thanks to the establishment of small production tools such as fruit and vegetable micro-canneries or yogurts, possibly pooled, making it possible to capture more large part of the added value of the products. Then, by the production of energy (solar, wind, from methanization), by the development of payment systems for environmental services, or by the multiplication of offers of farm stays to individuals or companies.

“Productive relationships” too often ignored

Another source of resilience highlighted concerns a better distribution of food processing on the territory, in order to bring it closer to the places of production and make it more efficient in the face of local demand.

An objective that requires better knowledge of the local fabric by processors, new contractual relationships with producers, a review of local logistics including digital…

In order to increase the local offer, Utopies also recalls the need to better exploit “productive relationships”: skills or technologies already used locally and close to those sought in the sectors that we want to develop. Available resources too often ignored because of the compartmentalization between sectors.

The think tank suggests mobilizing local companies with the know-how to develop new productions, in particular by facilitating their access to production tools; encourage local collaboration and pooling; to promote the emergence of projects that promote local resources, including co-products and waste.

“A formidable political and civic challenge”

Finally, increasing resilience also involves innovating, to accelerate the adaptation of sectors to the ecological and climatic challenge, in particular by diversifying both production and consumption. And for good reason: for example, each increase of one degree in global temperature would reduce wheat yields by 6%. Utopies appeals to the creativity of agri-food actors, but also encourages the development of dynamics of pooling flows by areas of activity.

“(…) the food issue, more than any other, will require work both in the fields of planning (agricultural strategy, investment in industrial and logistical infrastructure…), innovation (resilience of seeds, sobriety of processes, decarbonization of the food supply), regulation (integration of environmental externalities into accounting frameworks, carbon taxation), and behavior change (capacity of downstream to collaborate with the agricultural upstream, construction of a fair price, evolution of purchasing practices and composition of the plate)”, summarizes Utopies.

“The integration of negative and positive externalities – such as the value of the premises for the consumer – can in particular have a radical effect on prices, and thus on the choices of consumers and distributors”, hopes Annabelle Richard, author of the study.

“In this, food resilience is a complex and fascinating issue, which carries with it all the societal challenges of the 21st century. It is also, well beyond the simple technical question to which it is sometimes reduced, a formidable political and citizen”, concludes the firm.