This article is part of our special report Climate change prevention measures in the new CAP.
With organic agriculture increasingly gaining recognition in the EU as providing benefits to farmers, consumers and the environment, EURACTIV.pl explores how the new CAP proposal works to support the promotion of this type of production.
Organic farming faces many challenges and an opportunity to change the face of the European agricultural landscape.
However, while industrial agriculture, geared towards mass food production and maximising profits continues to dominate, organic farms are gaining increasing popularity among both farmers and consumers in the EU.
This trend is set to continue as the new European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, has announced support for organic agriculture during his five-year term of office.
“One of my priorities will be to develop an action plan for organic farming,” said Janusz Wojciechowski in his first speech as EU Commissioner at the AGRI Outlook conference on December 10 in Brussels.
European farmers and entrepreneurs are now gearing up for the next step. That will come on 1 January 2021 with the entry into force of the EU’s new regulation on organic production and labelling of organic products.
In the EU, organic agriculture currently represents 6.7% of the member states’ farmland. That number is growing year on year “despite the many difficulties faced by farmers,” says Dorota Metera, President of the board of Bioekspert, a certification body in organic farming.
However, organic farming still needs financial support and incentivises for farmers, she told EURACTIV.pl. In her view, this support should include payments to farmers switching to organic food production and financial incentives to remain in organic farming.
The EU and individual member states support organic farming through subsidies from the second pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, which is dedicated to rural development. Within the EU, on average 6.4% of the budget for agricultural and climate action is spent on this type of production, but the exact amounts vary from country to country.
But Metera says support varies widely across the EU, as it is up to each member state to decide how it wants to promote organic farming on its territory. “We have 200,000 organic farms across the EU, but the situation varies from country to country,” she said.
For instance, a country like France decided in 2017 to strive for food sovereignty. And one of its aims is to achieve 50% of local and organic food in the public sector of mass nutrition by 1 January 2022.
Meanwhile, Poland still lacks a similar initiative from the Ministry of Agriculture, she said.
Organic farming – a natural ally of environmental and climate action
Organic farming does not use synthetic chemical pesticides or readily soluble mineral fertilisers as opposed to conventional, mass-marketed products.
This is a clear environmental benefit for biodiversity and soil protection. Industrial agricultural methods, on the other hand, often improve farm productivity at the expense of the environment.
There are more examples of the positive impact of organic farming on the environment. One of these is the promotion of localities and short supply chains. Surveys show that Europeans are increasingly turning to regional food products, and the 2018 Eurobarometer survey shows that as many as three-quarters of Europeans take regional and local products into account when shopping.
Nina Józefina Bąk is a member of the Board of “Dobrze”, a food cooperative promoting high-quality food based on short supply chains in Warsaw. During a July debate on the future of European agriculture, hosted by EURACTIV.pl, she argued about the important role of short chains in modern, organic agriculture.
“Demand for good food is growing, but we still need a diversified distribution system. Small markets are disappearing, small shops are disappearing, even in small towns, and discounts are appearing in their place. We are even colonized by large retail chains,” she said.
She also raised the question of consumer awareness.
“The Polish state has ceased to promote organic food, so it is the norm to consider certified organic food as imported food. However, transporting food that generates CO2 emissions, i.e. food miles, is not ecological if we look at the impact on the environment holistically. We must shorten supply chains. Farmers and consumers must meet”.
Meanwhile, most of the CAP money is spent on direct payments to farmers under the first pillar and will remain so after 2020, which has been heavily criticised by the European Coordination Movement Via Campesina (ECVC).
In addition, the second pillar of the CAP, which finances rural development and from which short chains could be supported, will face cuts, in line with the proposals of the European Commission.
The European Commission argues that the new rules will allow member states greater flexibility in the use of the financial resources allocated to them, which will contribute to the development of tailor-made programs, such as the promotion of short supply chains.
“Member states are also to be able to transfer up to 15% of their CAP allocations between payments and rural development and vice versa to ensure that they can finance their priorities and measures,” Metera added.
“Although the new CAP can be seen as positive in the context of organic farming, the changes are not progressing fast enough,” she said.
[Edited by Natasha Foote and Frédéric Simon]