Álvaro Barrera was recently re-elected as the head of the Ecovalia Organic Value Association, in which he has held several leading roles since 2004 and which he has helmed since 2015. He will continue to run it for the next four years. Barrera is a pet food scientist. He graduated from the University of Córdoba and completed his studies at the University of Granada with a degree in food technology. In this interview, he tells us the challenges facing the organic sector and the organization's objectives.
Wikispanishfood.com.- You were just re-elected as president of Ecovalia. How would you describe your most recent term as president and what are your goals for the coming years?
A.B.- I would say that organic production is a reality in terms of agronomic production, the food industry and consumption. We have strengthened Ecovalia's position as a leader in Spain's organic sector with a commitment to the global market as well, which has enabled us, and our subsidiary, CAAE, to advance in non-EU countries. Ecovalia operates internationally, with the result that we're playing a key role in developing the new 848/2018 Regulation on Organic Production as well as new common organic production policies.
We see the future as more organic, so Ecovalia is going to continue to set aside resources to promote organic production wherever it needs to be. We want organic production to be well established, recognized and valued by consumers as well as institutions. The goal is for organic products to account for at least 20% of people's shopping and for 30% of useful farmland to be certified for organic production by 2030.
W.- How has production and consumption of organic products in Spain developed since you became president of the organization?
A.B.- Production continues to outperform and accounts for 8.9% of Spain's utilized agricultural area. When I became president, production was around 1 billion euros, and today it's twice that. This is an example of how, in the midst of the 2015 crisis, we worked hard so that production, the media and retailers could offer organic products to consumers that are more aware about their health and the environment.
Ecovalia has more than 15,000 members, many of them from Spain, although recently there has been an increase in the number of international members. Requests for collaborations with other associations, in Portugal and Italy, is creating a Mediterranean alliance in terms of organic production in Mediterranean climates in southern Europe.
According to statistics from the Ministry, Spain has increased organic consumption by 96% in recent years. In view of this, we are satisfied with the progress driven by Ecovalia. I would also note our hard work in showing that organic production is the only regulated farming system that mitigates climate change, according to a study by the Organic Production Faculty, presented in October.
W.- What are the specific requirements of organic production when it comes to negotiations for the CAP reform?
A.B.- Organic production must be recognized as a producer of public goods and this should be reflected beyond the productivity of its farmers. Moreover, it guarantees not just supply, but also sustainability of arable land, ecosystems, vegetative reproduction material, seeds... I'm talking about guarantees for future production to meet the demands of future generations. To that end, we believe that just as there are guarantees for other products, like cotton, these should also be included as part of Pillar I.
W.- What role does organic production play in the fight against climate change?
A.B.- Ecovalia has worked tirelessly, through its university faculty and the scientists that comprise it, to confirm what we already know: organic production mitigates, and is positive for the fight against, climate change. And this occurs not just on arable land, but also as a result from kilos of products. For example, a liter of organic olive oil mitigates the climate change effects of driving to work for one month. I'm referring to the carbon sink that organic production represents, and the fact that 10% of arable land must be valued in the fight against climate change. It's something that we have to value, protect and strengthen.
W.- The new EU regulation on organic production will be applied in two years. What effects do you expect for Spain and how is the sector preparing for this?
A.B.- Negotiations regarding this new regulation have underlined the existence of two different Europes when it comes to organic production: the north and the south, producers and consumers. To that end, we believe that Spain should not address the situation set out in regulation 848/2018. We believe that Ecovalia needs to establish a strategic plan to decide what the organic production sector needs to do in Spain, coordinating with the regional governments; we believe this is sorely lacking at the moment. We have an issue with importing from non-EU countries and it's not being addressed. I would ask the Spanish state to be given the necessary resources to defend the interests of Spain and those of its producers vis-à-vis the European Commission so that we don't have a regulation in 2021 that jeopardizes organic production in southern Europe in general, and especially in Spain. We have to unify criteria in Spain and know how to apply it to all of Europe.
W.- What is Ecovalia's role internationally and what are its objectives?
A.B.- Despite being a leader in Spain, Ecovalia has a lot of scope for growth in Europe, where it's already established and recognized as a valid representative of organic food in Spain, and it's also making a name for itself in Latin America. Its international team is focused on strengthening ties with America and Europe through the Iberian Peninsula. To that end, friendly countries, and friendly associations in Portugal and Italy, play a very important role.
W.- What are your expectations with regard to Organic Food Iberia, which will be held in Madrid in June?
A.B.- We have always said that there's no top trade fair for professionals that encompasses the true biodiversity of the organic sector and which includes small, medium and large producers. Organic Food Iberia, which is part of the National Strategic Plan for Organic Production, is an opportunity for producers, manufacturers and distributors, of all sizes and kinds in Spain, to come together in one place to discuss sales and business projects. This will now be possible thanks to Organic Food Iberia. From the beginning, Ecovalia has always believed in the need for a leading fair in Spain for the organic industry. The organizers got in touch with us, and since then we have been supporting and directing them, and I think Ecovalia has played a major role in developing this fair.