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Conference promotes networks in organic research

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The double conference that was held on 25 and 26 September 2012 in Larnaca on Cyprus deserves the accolade ‘extraordinarily successful’. A whole range of organic research projects was presented in concise form that provided the approximately 90 participants with a good overview. On the second day of the conference discussion focused on the challenges experienced by agriculture in terms of the demands imposed by climate change and the growing shortage of water. The three-day event began with a day-long excursion to organic agricultural projects on Cyprus. The organizers were the Cypriot EU Presidency,
the Department of Agriculture and the Directorate-General for Research of the EU Commission, the technology platform TP Organics and the IFOAM EU-Group in cooperation with the local organic association Pasybio. (Part 1)
(Picture: Inge van Oost, from the Directorate-General for Agriculture at the rostrum next to the conference logo)
Setting priorities is of great importance for the promotion of organic research in the future,” declared Marco Schlüter, the head of the IFOAM EU-Group, that is based in Brussels. “We have to position ourselves, because the green genetic engineering industry, that currently provides less than 0.1 % of land with seed, is claiming a large amount of funding.” Schlüter is convinced that “organic could achieve even better results if research in this area was intensified.” His focus is therefore on “image branding with a clear organic research programme.” In order to structure organic research and to gather together the research applications in advance, the technology platform TP Organics was founded in 2008 with the cooperation of firms and groupings in the organic industry (see our earlier report). “We’re talking about the next 100 years, and organic agriculture is one of the solutions for that time period,” was Schlüter’s confident judgment. He said that it was important to develop research proposals, elaborated work programmes and lists of topics for the next framework programme of research called “Horizon 2020”. (Picture on left: Eduardo Cuoco, Anamarija Slabe and Marco Schlüter from TP Organics at the conference in Cyprus)

17 first-class lectures, with Powerpoint presentation and full of succinctly delivered information, awaited the attendees at the conference, that was titled “Organic and Low Input Agriculture: Implementing Innovation to Respond to EU Challenges”. The main sponsor of the three-day event was the EU Commission, that was represented by five high-ranking officials: Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer (Directorate-General for Research and Innovation), as the initiator of the event, Hans-Christian Beaumond and Inge van Oost (Directorate-General for Agriculture) and also Barna Kovacs (Directorate-General for Research and Innovation). Lutzeyer, who recently took over responsibility for organic research, gave a detailed introduction to the themes and presented a handbook by the EU Commission that appeared a short time ago and deals with EU funding for organic research. From 2000 to 2012, more than 50 research projects were supported with funds from the EU that amounted to around €150m. He gave a detailed account of the criteria and aims of the eighth research period from 2014 to 2020 – called Horizon 2020. “We’re relying on the diversity of agricultural systems to cope with price and climate shocks in the future,” he explained. (Picture: Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer introducing the new handbook on organic research)

Beaumond, who is responsible for regulations relating to organic agriculture, confirmed the role of research: “So that we can create the basis for the further development of directives and standards, research in the field of organics is of great significance.” He said that there were still some areas like hunting, fishing, catering and cosmetics that were not covered by the EU Organic Regulation. Regarding the labelling of organic wine that had recently come into force, he praised the preliminary work carried out by the research project Orwine – funded by the EU – that had created a sound basis for decisions. After the introductory speeches by, among others, a representative of the Cypriot EU-Presidency, a whole series of organic projects that were co-financed by the European Commission were presented.

Elke Saggau, from the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE) and deputy coordinator at ERA-Net Core Organic, reported on the progress made by cooperation between the national organic research programmes that had, for example, led to the establishment of the scientific database Organic Eprints. Eight research projects on improving animal health without the use of antibiotics and on the quality of organic food had also been funded. After running for three years, the second phase of Core Organic 2 will come to an end in December 2012. She said the budget of €14m had gone to research in organic plant production, food quality, animal husbandry and animal health in the organic sector, especially in the case of chickens and pigs. There are currently 19 projects running in 21 participating countries, and there will be four more projects in the third phase of Core Organic. Saggau explained that, in the database Organic Eprints, over 10,000 publications were available.

Solibam” is not the same as “Soli” funds for organic agriculture models but means research into plant breeding for organic farms: Strategies for Organic and Low-Input integrated Breeding and Management. Adapted old varieties or new breeds are examined and improved for use in vegetable cropping. “The aim is to bring more biodiversity to the farm,” says Véronique Chable from the French research institute INRA. 23 organizations in a dozen European and African countries have been working on Solibam since the start of the project in 2010.
The results of the research into biodiversity should be of benefit to organic farms and the consumer: last year 21 open days on organic farms were organized in the context of the research network. The focus of interest is the joint research work of farmers, breeders and researchers.

In her capacity as the Orwine coordinator, Christina Micheloni from the Italian farmers association AIAB presented the developments in the organic wine industry. She said that in Italy alone the land devoted to organic wine growing had jumped from around 36,000 ha in 2006 to over 50,000 ha in 2010. Spain and France had experienced similar growth to 50,000 ha and more. For the project, 900 replies to a survey of specialists were evaluated. In the course of the Orwine Project, a code of best practices was developed regarding growing and labeling, and a network for exchanging ideas and experience was set up. Over time, this cooperation with practical wine growing was extended from six to 30 organic vintners. The EU Commission used the results of the projects as the basis for designing the legal aspects of the EU Organic Directive relating to organic wine.

Carlo Leifert, a German professor at the University of Newcastle in Great Britain, presented the project Low Input Breeds, whose focus is breeds of animal that are particularly suited to organic farming. He said that farmers had themselves been carrying out on-farm research for a long time, but it was not particularly systematic, and the farmers were not in contact with each other. “We put these farmers in touch with each other, evaluate results and work out recommendations,” said Leifert, who has worked in England for over 20 years. The Low Input Breeds project runs from 2009 to 2014 and involves 60 researchers in 17 Institutes in 17 countries. The project, that is coordinated by Carlo Leifert and Veronika Maurer from FibL in Switzerland, has a budget of €6m.

The project Organic Data Network, that was launched at the beginning of 2012, was presented by Professor Raffaele Zanoli (picture). “Our objective is to set up long-term cooperation between the partners,” said Zanoli, who is a Professor at the University of Marche in Ancona in Italy. The aim of the 15 participants in ten countries is the joint development of a methodology within the three years the project is being financed with a grant from the European Commission. The funds cover €1.5m of the total costs of €1.9m. To ensure that all member states are involved, the project is collaborating with around another 50 partners. Whilst there have been surveys of the organic market in a number of countries for many years, they don’t exist at all in countries in southern and eastern Europe in particular, such as Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus. Zanoli explained Organic Data Network’s first task this year: “We’re collecting existing data from the various countries to establish their quality.” A workshop to deal with the issues has already been held, and there will be another one at the beginning of October. Over the next two years they will continue working on the methodology in further workshops.

Anne-Kristin Loes (Bioforsk, Norway) presented the iPOPY project – innovative Public Organic Food Procurement for Youth – that is financed by Core OrganicEU. The programme, that came to an end in 2010, involved the input of organic products in the midday meals served to schoolchildren. The project investigated the situation in Italy, Denmark, Finland, Germany and non-EU Norway. Since there are considerable differences in school catering and the organization and logistics that are behind it in the various countries surveyed, it was not possible to make generally applicable proposals. However, what the scientists participating in iPOPY recommended was to engage with existing solutions and gradually increase the use of organics. (Picture on right: Angela Morell/IFOAM EU-Group, Caroline Leplat/on behalf of the EU Commission and Savvas Mouzakis/Pasybio were responsible for organizing the event)

16 institutions in 14 countries participated in the Project Biobio Indicator, that was presented by Philippe Jeanneret. “With the help of 23 indicators, we’ve established the biodiversity in farming.” Taking part were 236 farms in 15 regions. Claudia Neubauer, from the Fondation Science Citoyennes in Paris, discovered, on the basis of empirical studies, that organic research has so far had a scarcely noticeable presence in the overall research landscape. She compared the number of nominations in the fields of organic and biotech (genetic engineering) research, and she concluded: “Agro-ecology and associated issues have hardly been represented at all.” In her view, what is urgently needed is a change of political signals and re-alignment. At the end of the conference, she proposed a competition with a prize for participatory research awarded by the Directorate-General for Agriculture. This research would involve people and projects on the front line. On behalf of the EU Commission, Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer welcomed the idea and said it was certainly worth thinking about. He expressed optimism regarding the ability to finance new projects. “Although the next budget still has to be passed, we’re planning to double the allocation for food safety, sustainable agriculture, marine research and bio-economy to €4.5m.” (Picture on right: Alexander Gerber/BÖLW next to Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer and Hans-Christian Beaumond/middle)

Both participants and organizers were very happy with how the Organic Days in Cyprus had been planned and carried out. “We’ve shown how important the function of the ‘front runners’ is, the people in our society who smooth the way for the rest,” said Hans-Christian Beaumond from the EU Commission. Inge van Oost from the Directorate-General for Agriculture was also very pleased. The initiator of the conference Hans-Jörg Lutzeyer expressed his thanks to all attendees for their contribution to the great success of the conference.
(Picture on left: With a view over the Mediterranean, productive discussions on the periphery of the conference)

Tip: www.organicdays.eu

Please find the presentations here.

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