THE EU’s executive unveiled its long-awaited Organic Action Plan (2021-2027) on March 25th, seeking to boost production, stimulate consumer demand and further improve the sector’s contribution to sustainability and environmental challenges, with a view to reaching 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030.
Ireland’s share of agricultural land currently under organic farming is around 2%, one of the lowest in Europe. Countries such as Austria lead the way at 26% – just above the 25% target, Sweden and Estonia (20% each) and Italy, Latvia and Czech Republic (15%).
Countries with the smallest proportion of agricultural land under organic production include Bulgaria, Romania, the Netherlands, Poland and Malta.
Led by the Commission’s Department for Agriculture & Rural Development, the 21-page blueprint is a central plank of the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy to enable to transition to a more sustainable food system.
The Action Plan is structured around three axles: 1. Organic food and products for all: stimulate demand – ensure consumer trust; 2. On the way to 2030: stimulating conversion and reinforcing the entire value chain; and 3. Organics leading by example: Improving the contribution of organic farming to sustainability and contains 23 actions.
The aim of the plan is to encourage a marked increase of the share of organic farming in the EU, through encouraging farmers to convert to organic farming and expand the accessibility of organic food, while the approach implies a large-scale conversion of conventional farming to organic production.
Currently around 8.5% of EU’s agricultural area is farmed organically (approx. 13.8m hectares).
Trends show that with the present growth rate, the bloc would reach 15-18% by 2030. The Action Plan seeks to provide the stimulus and ‘extra push’ to reach the 25% target.
But the ambitious threshold cannot be reached with a ‘business as usual’ approach, officials underline.
Speaking to reporters on the day of the launch, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said the organic sector ‘is recognised for its sustainable practices and use of resources, given its central role in achieving the Green Deal objectives.’
To achieve what he described as the’“ambitious challenge’ of the pan-European 25% objective by the end of the decade, ‘we need to ensure that demand drives the growth of the sector, while taking into account the significant differences between each Member State’s organic sectors.’
IFOAM Organics Europe – of which the Irish Organic Association is a member – welcomed the publication of the plan which, it said, ‘will mark a new era for the transformation of food systems towards organic agro-ecology.’
In a statement, the organic food and farming movement refers specifically to ‘push-pull’ approach of the Action Plan, which aims at balancing increases in both production and demand of organic products.
Meanwhile, the EU’s largest farm lobby COPA-COGECA – of which the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) is a member – welcomed the market-oriented approach of the new organic plan, which it said was ‘the best way to ensure the healthy growth for the sector.’
Citing the latest figures, EU farm lobbyists say that organic farming has been constantly growing for the last decade (62% in 10 years), from 8.5m hectares in 2010 to 13.8m hectares in 2019.
But the current EU agricultural land devoted to organic farming is at 8.5%, far from the ambitious target of 25% presented in the Farm to Fork strategy, which is to be met in less than nine years.
Ambitious certainly, but this is the new direction of travel the Commission seems to be taking, to justify the CAP budget, address environmental and climate change concerns and ensure buy-in from the citizens of Europe.
•Rose O’Donovan is the editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication Agra Facts.