The European Organic Congress has always been a space for meeting and debate for the organic movement. With more than 1,500 registered attendees, with significant success in dissemination and impacts and a 100% online edition, the 2020 edition of the Congress held last week from 1 to 3 July, organized by IFOAM Organics Europe -the new name and image replacing IFOAM EU- and the German BÖLW, has been a great success, overcoming the organizational challenge posed by the current crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Congreso Ecológico Europeo 2020

At a time when, due to the complicated health, social and also political situation in Europe, one might think that it is not a time for disruptive ideas or changes, the organic movement is proving that organic is an essential part of the solution to the present and future challenges of European (and global) society. As President of BÖLW Dr. Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein pointed out in his welcome message to the Congress participants, the organic movement is in a way an ambassador of change towards sustainability, creating a road on which society as a whole can move.

Jan Plagge, President of IFOAM Organics Europe –re-elected on June 30 on the eve of the Congress– welcomed as well the participants, and emphasized the inspiring role of the organic movement to transform productive and social systems, being a tool for positive changes in the value chain and delivering public goods to European society. Julia Klöckner, German Minister of Food and Agriculture, also took part via video in the first day of the Congress, reiterating her and Germany’s commitment to ambitious goals.

Context: Commitment to sustainability and organic production despite a complicated socio-political situation

The organic movement reached the Congress with, despite the current complicated situation, some good news. At the end of May, the commitment of the EU-27 to reach a target of 25% cultivated land in organic farming by 2030 was finally approved. The ambitious goal was included in the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, thus formally committing with a clear target and objectives following the ambitious aiming of the EU Green Deal.

The ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy had been published earlier back at the end of 2019 by the European Commission, and has gradually become more concrete. As explained from the Commission, it seeks to increase food sustainability, being a key component of the new EU Green Deal: “European food is famous for being safe, nutritious and high quality. Now it should also become the global standard for sustainability.” Thus, 40% of the budget of the new Common Agricultural Policy, CAP (2021-2027) should contribute to meeting the climate targets set. Precisely the CAP is one of the ‘hot potatoes’ that have been debated in the European Organic Congress: what should be the most sustainable CAP (and therefore most organic CAP) of the history of the EU.

At the end of the first Congress day, there was an interesting panel about the other current most crucial issue for the sector: the new organic regulation.

New organic regulation from 1st January 2021

The interesting subject of the new regulation on organic production closed on the first day of the Congress. Nicolas Verlet, Head of the Organic Production Unit of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG Agri), commented that the Commission is assessing the possibility of postponing the implementation of the new regulation due to the current crisis, while Emanuele Busacca, Regulation Manager of IFOAM Organics Europe, pointed out that for organic producers will be a great challenge to start implementing the new regulation, and waiting another year would be beneficial for the entire organic sector. A new regulation that according to the vice-president of IFOAM Organics Europe, Marian Blom, faces positive issues in terms of expanding the scope and deepening of regulations and especially harmonization between producers in EU member states, providing clarity to producers, manufacturers and consumers.

The most organic Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the history?

The second Congress day started with a panel of one of the issues in which the organic sector has the longest path to walk, even considering the good news and policies initiated in the last reforms. Making the CAP as ‘green’ as possible is the Commission’s commitment. As we mentioned, it is proposed that at least 40% of its budget be linked to climate change goals, but... what role is given to organic -the food production system that’s most in accordance with social, environmental, nutritional and governance agenda set out in the 2030 Agenda, its SDGs, and the goals set by the EU?

The organic sector -and citizens, environmental activists and civil society in general- must fight for the inclusion of organic production as a solution to the present and future challenges we face. This, which is one of the clearest conclusions of this Congress, is an argument that must be present within the legislatures, the community spheres and the member states. If, as the EU, we set ourselves goals in line with the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda and ambitious measures for climate, soil health and the well-being of producers, inclusion and commitment to organic ‘mainstream’ is a must.

The session, entitled 25% of organic farming by 2030: how can the CAP contribute? raised the need for the policy to which the EU allocates more resources to contribute to meeting the objectives of the Farm to Fork strategy and the EU Green Deal. The financing of the CAP has counted, taking the complete CAP 2014-2020, with the 38% of the EU budget, which has represented 408,313 million euros (more info): a capital that is it must be used productively to transform European agriculture.

Congreso Ecológico Europeo 2020:

Going into detail in the session, it is worth noting the presence of Wolfgang Burtscher, General Director of Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, who pointed out that to achieve the goal of 25% in organic production we must take into account the various situations throughout Europe but that resources for the second Pillar (Rural Development measures) are increasing. Burtscher also noted that adequate funds and resources are needed to promote organic farming through the CAP, arguing that organic production must be a cornerstone of a sustainable agricultural production system in the EU. Finally, he informed that at the end of this 2020 the Commission will publish basic information and guidelines about the objectives.

Also participating were Walter Dübner, Head of the Agricultural Production and Horticulture Division of the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Norbert Lins, MEP and Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, and Jan Plagge, who stressed the need that Member States introduce national targets for organic farming percentages. Plagge also called for CAP payment to go beyond ‘lost income’, really paying and rewarding farmers who deliver public goods to society: direct payments should be phased out so that all farmers can get ready. Plagge also pointed out that more budget than 2 pillars is needed.

The director of IFOAM Organics Europe, Eduardo Cuoco moderated the session, and stressed the work, carried out by the organization he leads, for a more organic CAP “We have developed a solid vision and a series of documents position on what the future of the CAP should look like”; he also sent a message of optimism and motivation to continue on the good line of work “Don’t be scared, the future is organic!”. Cuoco emphasized that “As organic sector, we must ensure that our development goes together with the principles of organic production: Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care. And this also helps to have a better landscape and biodiversity, less soil erosion, etc.”

Motivating the transition towards organic and strengthening the sector and value chains: are current European and Member State strategies working?

The second day closed with an interesting debate on the large, small or moderate success of the different organic actions plans to promote the conversion and transformation of the EU’s agricultural production paradigm towards organic production and make the organic movement stronger. Nathalie Sauze-Vandevyver and Thomas Fertl opened the debate with the moderation of Peter Röhrig, and then 3 simultaneous sessions went on: how these promotional plans can make production more resilient (with Ylva Sjelin and Fiona Marty with the moderation of Dr. Alexander Gerber); how they can promote conversion to organic by stimulating demand (with Chiara Faenza and Paul Holmbeck moderated by Lukas Nossol); and how the value chains of the organic sector can be strengthened (with Janis Garancs and Marja-Riitta Kottila moderated by Dr. Alexander Beck).

The session highlighted the need for deeper integration and cooperation between Member States and the EU, empowering the organic sector more clearly and with a stronger commitment. A holistic view of policies, around -or always taking into account- organic as a solution and practical tool, is essential. It was also made clear that demand is what is moving in the sector, and that more and above all could be done more effectively from these action plans, which can be a very useful tool.

“No change without ambition” The post-Covid-19 world: agricultural production and food systems in the EU

The Congress closed with the third day and another interesting debated panel: the post-Covid-19 world and its impacts and revelations on agricultural production and food systems in the EU. The session was opened by Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety of the European Commission who referred to the 25% organic land target of the Farm to Fork strategy saying that ‘there is no change without ambition’ and, following Burtscher’s previous day’s message, stated that organic production must be the cornerstone of the EU’s agricultural future.

The current pandemic shows us all faster and clearly some structural situations of the system. To get out of the current crisis, Tassos Haniotis, Head of DG Agri’s Policy Analysis and Perspectives Unit stated that the organic sector is a crucial part in solving the current problems. Health, with the crisis of Covid-19, is now more than ever part of the public debate. In this regard, Thomas Waitz, MEP and Co-Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, stressed the importance of security in food production, recognizing the good work done by organic farmers.

Olivier de Schutter, Co-Chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) highlighted the need for an umbrella strategy that covers all sectoral policies that impact on food production and the environment, and also acknowledged that the Farm to Fork strategy is very positive because it focuses its performance on the entire value chain: from producer to consumer. de Schutter referred to the € 750 billion EU recovery fund for the Covid-19 and said it should be aligned and work towards the organic transition and the goals of the EU Green Deal.

Congreso Ecológico Europeo 2020

Talking about the current crisis situation arising from Covid-19, Sarah Compson, International Development Manager of the Soil Association spoke of “a much bigger crisis” we are facing: the climate crisis. Thus, pointed out that the agro-productive system urgently needs to do much more than just produce: it must protect and contribute to society. Compson also wondered if our food systems are contributing to or mitigating the crisis we are facing: “The decisions we make today will have an influence on our future.”

Finally, Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner in charge of EU Agri, acknowledged the work of the Congress and assured to take into account the discussions and debates that have taken place there.

The Congress was closed by the President of IFOAM Organics Europe, Jan Plagge and Dr. Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, President of BÖLW. Both thanked their members and all the participants for making possible an edition that has been a huge success, even in these strange times, of the European Organic Congress.

 Author: Oriol Urrutia, Co-Editor – Bio Eco Actual.

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