The organic fruit and vegetable sector is facing the challenge of being able to meet the rising demand around the world. The main issue is that the production is not growing at the same rate as the demand, and this could lead to bad crop management practices being adopted.
The warning was raised by Julia Lernoud, expert at the Research Institute for Organic Farming (FIBL), who was in Madrid to take part in the first European congress on organic fruit and vegetables (BioFruit Congress), which took place within the framework of the Fruit Attraction exhibition. Lernoud mentioned the need to seek a "balance" between cultivation and demand.
The organic market has grown in "the whole world" in recent years. Lernoud mentioned the case of Sweden as an example of how important the organic sector has become. Sweden was one of the first countries to invest in organic products and despite the country's "maturity" in this sector, consumption is still growing by more than 20% annually.
Although the fruit and vegetable sector is playing an essential role in this development, Lernoud emphasized that the growth is even stronger in the dairy sector.
Largest growth in China, Japan and Latin America
China, Japan and some countries in Latin America are among the countries recording the most growth. The US is one of the countries where consumption is greatest, but due to scarce cultivation, the country relies on Mexico. In Mexico, organic cultivation is growing at a good pace, Lernoud said.
The specialist stated that, worldwide, organic crops are cultivated on nearly 58 million hectares by 2.7 million growers.
For her part, Elena Panichi, Deputy Director of the European Commission's B4 unit for Organic Products, provided details on the new EU rules for organic farming, which aims to harmonize existing legislation.
She said that it is necessary to implement regulatory changes in order to facilitate the growth of this sector in the EU. The organic sector has expanded by 60% in the past decade, so the acreage devoted to organic cultivation has already reached 12 million hectares.
Panichi mentioned that so far there has been an "à la carte legislation", which has led to different interpretations in each State and to "unfair competition" between growers.
"With this harmonization, we aim to create a fair framework for all growers," she emphasized.
In the same vein, Juan Manuel Sánchez, Certifications Director of the Andalusian Committee for Organic Agriculture (CAAE), said that the challenge is to have uniform and straightforward rules. The idea is to prevent inequality in the enforcement of the rules and avoid positions of advantage or disadvantage in the different Member States.
As an example, he mentioned the conversion period to organic cultivation for a piece of land. In the regulation, this period is set at two or three years, but it may be shorter, as long as there is "sufficient proof" that the piece of land has not been previously exploited, or there has been compliance with the conditions established for organic cultivation.
If the new regulations are not clear on this, Sánchez warns that each country can make its own interpretation of "what is sufficient proof" in order to shorten the conversion period, so organic growers won't have the same opportunities.
According to Sánchez, "clarity regarding the rules" and "maximum transparency for consumers and growers" must be achieved.
Sánchez also mentioned the large growth in the consumption of organic products in Spain. Moreover, he expressed his appreciation for the growing commitment of large supermarket chains to expand their organic product range.
BioFruit Congress was held in the Organic Hub of Fruit Attraction, where conferences and round table discussions were held on subjects such as technological development, innovation, sustainability and organic cultivation.