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26/03/2019

Organic production in Spain proves to be the best agri-food system

Ángel Marqués Ávila. Journalist

Fruit and vegetables grown without fertilizer, meat without preservatives, eggs without additives, clothing made of organic cotton, cosmetics made from natural tree sap, cars that run without gas, gardens on balconies, homes that don't need heat or air conditioning. The organic way of life is invading us. Either you choose it because you believe in it, or because you want to save.

In Spain there are almost 40,000 organic food companies, a trend that is on the rise. We are Europe's "organic garden" and the country with the fifth-largest chemical free cultivated area. In Spain, there are already 30,000 urban gardens, a trend and a business that continues to grow.

2019: a good year for the organic sector

Organic agriculture (also known as biological agriculture) is a system for growing that combines tradition and the use of cutting-edge techniques to obtain organic foods in a sustainable and balanced way, optimizing natural resources and without using synthetic chemical products or genetically modified organisms (GMO) while also respecting the land's fertility.

Álvaro Barrera, President of Ecovalia, understands that 2019 is a big year since it represents “the continuity of efforts over the last four years when organic production continued to grow but, in particular, when consumption is being recognized, valued and paid for. Therefore, 2019 is going to be a year of continued progress from the last four years, where the pace of growth exceeds double digits. What must be maintained? We have to ensure that there's no new regulation that affects organic production in Europe, working together—the Ministry, the regional governments and associations—so this is under control and doesn't harm the good production figures for 2019."

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The authorized area for organic farming increased by 20%

Organic foods are healthier, more nutritious, more environmentally friendly and fairer for farmers as they don't contain any synthetic chemical products nor are they modified genetically.

Spain is a leader in Europe in organic production and is one of the top 10 countries that eat organic products. We're growing in every way. There are an increasing number of companies and producers interested in organic production.

The terms "organic" and "biological" and the words "eco" and "bio" are synonyms. They are all protected by the EU's regulation in force concerning organic production.

With 2,082,173 hectares of organic production in Spain, it's the leading country in Europe in terms of cultivated area; with more than 42,000 professionals who experienced growth of 5.3% in the last year; half of the area is used for permanent pasture for cattle, one-fourth for crops on arable land, and the other fourth for permanent crops.

The area authorized for organic farming has grown by 20%, further strengthening the sector's potential.

For Barrera, Spain is the leader in growth of organic products. "We got to this point more slowly, realizing that consumers must buy organic products to maintain rural areas, to maintain quality production and, of course, to maintain the world in which we live and to stop climate change. Spain has realized this, albeit late. It's the seventh country in terms of organic food consumption in all of Europe."

The organic consumer is biodiverse

Department stores and supermarkets have a policy when it comes to organic food where they look after the supplier and associates of Ecovalia, says Barrera. This national association promotes organic production and responsible consumption with a team of 15,000 people, who are happy with this distribution. "They understand how different these products are and we're increasing the socialization of organic products.

The problem with organic products was the number of intermediaries involved. This increased the price by up to 300%. That doesn't happen any more, says Barrera. "We offer prices that are fair, balanced and stable without the saw-tooth market environment that affects producers in the traditional sector and consumers, who understands how to appreciate it." There's a new type of consumer, who is biodiverse and shops in department stores.

Previously he or she didn't find organic products there, and now they do. This has led to an increase in consumption.

Organic product consumption is aligned with organic production. Organic production is based on fertility and biodiversity, with the result that consumers of organic products are biodiverse. We have consumers who go to the closest store, or a small local unspecialized chain but which sells organic products, just like a department store, or who use direct sales channels or cajas verdes. This has occurred because the consumer has changed in two ways: we no longer have strictly organic consumers, we have consumers who eat organic vegetables and traditional fats and oils; and now we have a new consumer who's doing it for the environment, for the social factors, for sustainability, and he or she does it more for solidarity.

Spain is seeing an organic boom

Barrera, from Ecovalia, which is a leader in Spain's organic sector with broad representation in Spain and abroad, says that Spain is experiencing a "boom." The main consumer of organic products is still the US, which is growing at a pace of 12.5% with a market worth over 37 billion dollars. As a result, a country where only 0.6% of the useful agricultural area is organic, compared with the European average, which is over 10%, is clearly dependent on importing organic products. US consumers demand these types of products and the country is a global leader in this area, doubling the figure of the country ranking second, which is Germany.

Consumers of organic products are surprised to find that the typical myths have been debunked, i.e. that they are more expensive and harder to find, that it's difficult to purchase a broad range of products, or that they are poor quality. The best professionals are growing organic foods and use technological treatments, always respecting the biological cycles. Consumers understand this, which is why, in Spain, this market is worth more than 2 billion euros.

Organic agriculture and livestock

Organic agriculture yields enough foods that are highly nutritious, working the agro-ecosystem in its entirety, promoting and intensifying the biological cycles of the agricultural system, which includes microorganisms, soil, plants and animals.

It maintains and increases the natural fertility of soil in the long term. It uses renewable resources as much as possible in locally-organized agricultural systems. It works within a closed system that respects organic material and nutrients. It creates a living environment for cattle that respects their innate behavior. It avoids all kinds of pollution that results from agricultural techniques. It maintains the genetic diversity of the agricultural system and its environment, including the protection of plant and animal habitats. It considers the social and organic impact of the agricultural system in the broadest sense.

It allows farmers to make enough money and engage in satisfying work in a healthy work environment.

Organic livestock have very close ties to the land and it's very common for the animals to be closely connected to the agricultural system. One of the main advantages is that there is no pollution and it preserves the environment, ensures biodiversity and maintains ecosystems, always seeking a balance between the livestock and the available food resources on the farm.

It pursues food quality and security and renounces the use of those substances and materials that post a real or potential risk for consumers' health, specifically prohibiting the use of synthetic chemical products and genetically modified organisms.

It respects animal wellbeing, managing livestock who are free to roam and avoiding any kind of unnecessary suffering.

The characteristics of management generate demand for work and contribute to the establishment of populations in mountainous and less advantageous areas but which are rich in livestock culture.

They don't compete with the human population to eat food; in contrast, the livestock is complementary for the population since it consumes grass, forage and vegetable by-products that aren't eaten by people.

It prevents fires because the livestock eat a lot of herbs and bushes which represent a potential fire hazard.

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26/03/2019