Biofach – Europe leading the way on organic
“Organic is the decisive response to the climate and biodiversity crises and those with a different view should go to the opticians.”
This was the bold statement from the German Federal Minister for Agriculture, Cem Ozdemir, that set the tone for the Biofach 2023 conference last week.
Organisers said that 36,000 delegates from 135 countries headed to what is the world’s largest trade fair for organic food, held in Nuremberg, Germany.
Soil Association Scotland was there as part of a delegation led by Scotland Food and Drink and including representatives from the Scottish Government.
Clear commitment to organic
It is hard to imagine a UK Government minister voicing such full-throated support for organic food production as a solution to the environmental and climate challenges we face.
But here in Scotland, we do have a clear commitment to grow the sector by doubling the amount of land managed organically by 2026.
That presents huge opportunities as well as challenges.
One of those challenges is how that to balance the ambition to grow the land share for organic with ensuring there is sufficient capacity for processing and demand for Scottish organic produce – whether in retail, food service or through public procurement.
The trip to Biofach proved inspiring and informative on many levels, not least to hear how governments in different countries have approached support for organic production and for the crucial element of market development.
German ambitions on organic
The EU Farm to Fork Strategy sets a clear target for 25% of the utilisable agricultural area in Europe to be managed organically by 2030.
This applies across the EU as a whole, so not all member states will reach the 25% mark, while others will go beyond it.
For example, in Germany, the federal government has set a goal to reach 30% organic land share by 2030. Germany remains the largest market for organic food in Europe, worth more than 15.8 billion Euros in 2021.
These figures dwarf what is happening in Scotland, where just 1.8% of agricultural land at present is organic, with approximately 600 producers and processors.
However, the German example can provide an inspiration for what is possible with the right combination of political will, government investment and strategic development measures agreed via a national Organic Action Plan.
Scottish organic action plan
In addition to the commitment to double organic land, the Scottish Government has also committed to developing a new Organic Action Plan.
There have been previous action plans in Scotland, from 2003 under what was then the Scottish Executive, another in 2010 and a third in 2016.
Since the early 2000s, there has been a fall in terms of land share that stabilised from 2013 onwards and has subsequently increased in each of the last four years.
If there is going to be another action plan, it is important to get it right. Any refresh of previous plans requires joined-up policy from government, detailed input from key stakeholders and clear, measurable actions to develop the market, increase demand and ensure sustainable growth.
The Scottish Organic Stakeholders Group has already set out some of the measures that the plan should include, covering topics such as conversion support, supply chain development, public procurement, research and training.
The good news is that the current Scottish Government, and in particular the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon, has shown a commitment to organic farming and an understanding of the benefits in delivery of policy outcomes on climate and nature.
The next step is to realise that ambition, and we need look no further afield than the many European nations – including Germany – that have made organic food and farming a top priority.