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What Can Organic Farming Deliver? Lessons Learnt From 20 Years of Organic Pioneering Projects in New Member States

Znaor, Darko (2011) What Can Organic Farming Deliver? Lessons Learnt From 20 Years of Organic Pioneering Projects in New Member States. In: Proceedings of the 5th European Organic Congress: Organic Farming as Opportunity for European Agriculture, IFOAM EU Group, Brussels, pp. 28-30.

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Avalon has been supporting organic farming in the New Member States since 1991. It has implemented numerous demonstration, research, education, policy making and awareness raising projects. Avalon has acquired a substantial legacy from its twenty years experience in inspiring, empowering and enabling organic movements in all New Member States. The present stage of development of the organic sector is quite different than the pioneering situation from twenty years ago. Today, the organic movement requires a different “language”, approach and advocacy tools. It is challenged to prove that it can create bridges and build alliances with other sustainable food and farming movements. Organic farming has become part of the mainstream and it ought to seek synergy with progressive businesses, promoters of the public good, policy makers and other actors. However, in doing this, organic farming should strive to retain its integrity and remain committed to its basic principles. This is often very challenging and sometimes nearly impossible to achieve. However, evidence from Avalon’s experience show that much can be done in this field. Avalon currently runs a network of nearly 200 members from over 30 countries. It is a wide platform of organisations and individuals recognising organic farming as a force that can bring a positive change to our food and farming systems. The organic farming concept and practice might not be the solution for all socio-economic and environmental problems that humankind faces today. But it is one of the “second-best” alternatives. A vast body of scientific evidence, as well as achievements from practice indicate that organic farming, being a multiple-objective activity, scores quite well on major sustainability parameters. It delivers public goods and services, while at the same time generating economic benefits. It is farming for people, planet and profit. By purchasing organic products consumers “vote” daily for a “multi-value bag” and sustainability. Like many others, Avalon’s projects in the New Member States also demonstrate and confirm that organic farming contributes to halting climate change and the loss of biodiversity; soil fertility building; food security; economic prosperity and cohesion of rural communities and the rural fabric.
Avalon: serving the New Member States’ organic movement since 1991
Avalon is an international foundation, based in the Netherlands. Since 1991 Avalon has been serving the organic movement in the New Member States (and beyond). It has implemented numerous demonstration, research, education, policy making and organic farming awareness raising projects in all New Member States (and some twenty other countries). Avalon was in fact one of the very first Old Member State organisations that supported New Member States in paving the road to organic farming. It has provided technical, financial, policy and various other forms of support to the New Member States' ministries, universities, organic NGOs and other stakeholders. Its conference held in Castle Rudolec (Czech Republic) in 1993, gathering several ministers, vice-ministers and officials from the New Member States and international organisations was the first high-level organic farming conference ever held. The Grožnjan conference held in 1995 in Croatia was another important milestone for the organic movement. It gathered organic movement leaders from all New Member States (as well as from several other countries) and resulted in the Grožnjan Declaration. This was the first document in which major environmental and nature conservation organisations (IUCN, BirdLife International, WWF and Euronatur) jointly gave credit to organic farming for its environmental and biodiversity benefits. Since 2000, Avalon has implemented several multi-year agri-environment projects and was instrumental in introducing and designing these in the New Member States. Avalon’s projects have always been participatory and have been implemented in co-operation with counterparts from the New Member States including organic NGOs, ministries, universities, etc. Avalon currently runs a vast organic farming network. It is a wide platform of nearly 200 organic, environmental and nature protection NGOs, universities, research institutes, businesses, ministries and individuals from over 30 countries, who seek to unite their efforts in shaping an organic future. Avalon’s recent activities in the New Member States, among others, include three international conferences and a major biodiversity project. In 2009, Avalon held two international conferences in Bulgaria: (1) on organic agriculture and climate change; and (2) on organic agriculture, biodiversity and business. A large international conference on greening the EU Common Agricultural Policy was held in November 2010 in Slovenia. In Bulgaria, through its Bulgarian branch and together with the Ark Foundation, Avalon runs a multi-year project aimed at linking biodiversity, organic farming and eco-tourism in the Rhodopi Mountains – one of the hottest biodiversity spots in Europe.
What can organic farming deliver?
Organic farming can make a contribution towards solving numerous social, environmental, economic and agronomic problems. Projects implemented by Avalon and its partners indicate that organic farming can deliver numerous benefits for the environment, economy and society in the New Member States (and elsewhere). Elaborating on these in detail would go far beyond the scope of this paper. As details can be found in Avalon’s annual reports and other publications (www.avalon.nl) only basic information on some key issues will be provided here:
• Biodiversity: Organic farming can make a substantial contribution to enriching biodiversity and protecting it from further degradation. This is because careful management, enhancing biodiversity and stimulating the biological processes of the farm ecosystem, are central to all organic farming concepts and practices. Numerous studies, as well as evidence from Avalon’s projects indicate that, in general, organic farming is more beneficial to biodiversity than non-organic management, notably intensive conventional agriculture. Organically farmed areas usually have a much higher abundance and diversity of micro-organisms, plants and animals.
• Climate change: Organic farming contributes to the reduction greenhouse gas emissions because it reduces the consumption of fossil fuels (notably those used in fertiliser manufacturing), and reduces emissions of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. It also reduces the vulnerability of soils to erosion, while at the same time increasing carbon stocks in the soil. Consequently, conversion to organic farming can be a viable way of reducing GHG emissions. Depending on the commodity produced, organic farming emits 6-60% less greenhouse gases than non-organic farming. However, when calculated per kg of product, in case of substantially lower yields, organic farming can result in a higher global warming potential.
• Food security: food security is a complex issue stretching far beyond the mere question of the productivity potential of organic and other agricultural systems. Besides agriculture, food security also comprises various socio-economic and political aspects. In general, organic farming tends to result in lower yields, but as in conventional farming, this strongly depends on management skills and practices. Yields in organic farming tend to increase over time and contrary to most other systems, organic farming tends to ensure long-term production stability.
• Profitability: Economic performance of organic farms tends to be similar to comparable conventional farms, but is strongly determined by the level of the premium price. However, when comparing the economic performance of conventional and organic farming, one has to take into account the negative externalities generated by conventional farming. These are substantial but the price we pay for food, in general does not reflect the environmental and social costs associated with its production, transport, processing, storage and trade.Studies from the EU Member States and Candidate Countries show that when external costs are internalised, the comparison between the economic performance of conventional and organic farming turns out to be quite favourable for organic.
Lessons learnt from implementing organic farming projects in New Member States
Organic farming is a multi-objective concept and its environmental and socio-economic benefits go far beyond questions about its performance on single criteria (e.g. yields obtained, contribution to climate or biodiversity protection, etc). However, the key challenge, particularly today, is how to communicate the organic concept so that it can successfully be adopted and embraced by society. The present stage of development of the organic sector is quite different than the pioneering situation from twenty years ago. Today, the organic movement requires a different “language”, approach and advocacy tools. After twenty years' experience in advocating and developing organic farming in the New Member States (and many other countries) Avalon has learned a number of lessons that can be useful for the European organic movement as a whole.
In order to be better accepted organic farming should be developed through “shared ownership” with wider societal platforms. Creating bridges and building alliances with other sustainable food and farming movements are essential for the wider adoption and spread of organic ideas. Organic farming has become part of the mainstream and it ought to seek synergies with progressive businesses, public good promoters, policy makers and other actors. However, in doing this, organic farming should strive to retain its integrity and remain committed to its basic principles. This is often very delicate and sometimes nearly impossible to achieve – but it is a challenge and imperative of our age. In the context of the EU New Member States potential alliances might include linkage with slow-food-like movements, environmental and nature conservation organisations, natural medicine and alternative energy advocates, certain spiritual/church movements, etc. Some of these might prefer other farming methods over organic practices. We have to realise that these can also be very beneficial, such as pastoral or traditional farming. In fact, in many marginal European regions traditional farming practised by small-scale, (semi-) subsistence farmers is the only biodiversity-friendly alternative to land abandonment. In most cases these practices fully or largely comply with the principles of organic farming. However, since such production is not predominantly market-oriented it is not certified as organic.
In contrast to twenty years ago when organic development was mostly initiated by pioneering organic farmers and a handful of organic NGOs, a great deal of responsibility for the further development of organic farming today rests on policy makers. In order to catalyse the further development of the organic food and farming sector, policy makers should put into place a set of regulatory, economic and informative policy instruments favouring the development of organic farming and discouraging environmentally and socially damaging practices. In the EU, organic farming has to play a role in a wider agricultural policy context through agri-environment programmes and the post 2013 CAP greening initiatives. Besides policy makers, business is another important driver of change today. It moves fast as soon as it identifies market opportunities and sniffs the track of money. Organic market & chain development can be much enhanced if the organic sector properly teams up with business. By buying organic food and eating where organic food is served, consumers can also be a powerful driving force for the further development of organic farming. When purchasing organic food, consumers buy products that provide a range of social and environmental benefits, score high on animal welfare and often tend to have a higher nutritional value per weight unit. In short – by buying organic food consumers daily cast their vote for sustainability. However, many European consumers find the organic farming message too difficult to grasp and to “digest”. Unfortunately, we live in an “SMS society” in which holistic organic – for many a complicated concept – is difficult to understand. Having this in mind, there is an inevitable need - for the sake of attracting more consumers – to keep the “great” organic message short and simple. This is quite challenging, notably for organic pioneers.
The valuation (“monetarisation”) of ecosystem services and environmental costs generated by farming and farm-upstream sectors is a newly emerging concept that seems to be a promising tool particularly for influencing policy changes. Emerging assessments from the EU and Candidate Countries suggest that hidden costs (public expenditure and environmental costs) associated with food and farming are immense. Making policy makers and the public at large aware of these costs and of potential savings by practising organic farming can foster the wider adoption of organic farming. However, it is important to keep in mind that there is some concern as to what a widespread adoption of organic farming would bring to society as a whole. The costs and benefits of this development and the associated trade-offs are largely unknown and have hardly been explored. Sophisticated assessments, computer models, statistics, facts and figures can help to cast more light on environmental and socio-economic consequences of large-scale conversion to organic farming. However they alone are not sufficient to trigger a change. Statistics never move people – but partnership and passion does.
Avalon hopes to continue playing an inspiring, empowering and catalytic role and to serve the organic movement for many years to come.

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Paper
Keywords:Organic farming; Agri-environment; Avalon, New Member States
Subjects:"Organics" in general
Food systems > Policy environments and social economy
Environmental aspects
"Organics" in general > History of organics
Research affiliation: Netherlands
Deposited By: Znaor, Dr Darko
ID Code:26445
Deposited On:01 Jul 2014 08:51
Last Modified:01 Jul 2014 08:51
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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