They’re Only in it for the Money: Organic Farming in the EU

Organic Farmers in Greece

Organic Farmers in Greece

Organic farming regulations are implemented by EU Member States mainly through the provision of financial support to farmers. There has been an increase in the areas under organic management in most EU countries, which is probably related to the direct effect of financial support. Greece is an important country with respect to organically cultivated land and has one of the highest rates of increasing organic areas in the EU. However, Greek organic products are very difficult to find in the market, and sales are extremely low. In other words, only a small amount of organic products are labeled and sold as organic products. Since farmers were willing to switch from conventional to organic agriculture, with the procedure to obtain the organic label being quite simple for farmers to follow, why are so many farmers not enthusiastic about certifying and labeling their products as organic?

“In Greece, organic farming was majorly promoted through the provision of subsidies to farmers, i.e., since 2004. An average organic farmer in Greece has one of the highest per hectare support compared to other countries. However, subsidies are provided with no limitation regarding crop type, geographic region or other more specific characteristics. It is very likely that farmers are not selecting organic management for ideological reasons, but are driven by financial incentives to receive the available subsidies… In any case, when the organic agricultural sector operates in this way, it stops at the farm, resulting in it being short term and highly unsustainable, as it is completely dependent on direct and uninterrupted financing. 

Consequently, since organic farming is made profitable because of subsidies (sometimes double, as in the case of wheat), it is much easier for the farmers to sell organic products as conventional products in a market that they are already familiar with.

As the majority of EU Member States offer per area payments for the conversion and/or maintenance of organic land, the “Bio without Bio”, i.e., organic farming – without organic products case of Greece, is probably not an exception.”

Authors: Argyropoulos, C., et al.
Affiliation: DIO-Certification Body.
Title: Organic farming without organic products.
Source: Land Use Policy. 2013. 32:324-328.

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Organic Coffee Farmers in Central America May Not Survive

Coffee Fields

Coffee Fields

Organic coffee farms in Central America have typically been located at high altitudes where there has been less worry about fungal   disease. However, in recent years, fungal outbreaks have increasingly-occurred at these higher elevations and organic growers may not survive the huge yield losses due to their non-use of fungicides.

“Finca Santa Isabel, often held up as a shining example of success with organic agriculture in coffee, may not make it. The culprit? A fungus known as roya that often goes unnoticed until bright-orange pustules start appearing on the underside of leaves. This parasite interrupts the tree’s ability to nourish itself by redirecting nutrients to those colorful lesions. Eventually, the infected leaves shrivel up and fall off.

The Keller family owns Finca Santa Isabel, located in Santa Rosa, about an hour south-east of Guatemala City. It became the second estate to be Rainforest Alliance-certified in 1997, and the Kellers were named Sustainable Standard-Setter by the nonprofit in 2003. In a 2009 profile, the family was lauded for its successes with sustainable practices: caring for the land, being a profitable business, and having enough left over to help build needed infrastructure for their community. They grow Arabica at an elevation of 3,500 to 4,500 feet above sea level in a zone most growers thought roya could not thrive.

But the rusk outbreak is happening almost everywhere. By most accounts, large and low-lying estates accustomed to spraying to protect their trees will survive. …Growers in areas prone to the rust use fungicide prophylactically twice a year. Spraying, which typically occurs in July and September in Central America, is timed to happen just before and just after periods of heavier precipitation.

Farmers caught unprepared, like Keller, have to decide whether and how to fight this blight.

The fungus is causing huge shortfalls in coffee cherries at higher elevations and in shaded areas of Central America, in places where growers used to feel relatively immune. Keller was one of them and he relayed a stunning loss: “Last year, we had about a 70% drop in production and so did many other farms that work conventionally around us. The main reason is that nobody thought that it was going to be so bad.”

Guatemalan workers on coastal farms in lower altitudes that face the Pacific sprayed ahead of time. Farmers in these regions have also planted rust-resistant varieties as part of recovering from earlier outbreaks. Those growing coffee in hillier areas at higher altitudes did not. Nor do they use fungicides routinely.

“…The pathogen itself could be adapting to temperature variation or it could be a combination of the weather events with growers not using fungicides making disease more severe.”

Authors: J. Neill
Affiliation: STiR
Title: Central American Coffee Rust Crisis: No Easy Answers.
Source: STiR Tea and Coffee Industry International. Available at:  http://worldcoffeeresearch.org/files/2013/12/2013Jul-STiR-CoffeeRustCrisis.pdf