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Success story: weekly organic markets in Portugal

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

The roughly dozen organic markets in five different cities are the only form of direct marketing that functions well in Portugal. Eight of these markets in the Lisbon area and one in Aveiro were founded by the organic association Agrobio. Over almost 30 years, the association has been responsible for a number of initiatives, such as training courses, covering different themes, founding a magazine and running a regular organic trade fair. Despite Portugal’s climate, that is excellent for agriculture and enables crops to be grown all year round, the country performs far below its potential in terms of volume of organic production and variety of products. (Picture: In Lisbon alone there are nine organic weekly markets)

The organic association Agrobio was founded in1985. It now has a membership of 6,000 – producers, consumers and retailers - of whom around 2,000 are self-sufficient, reports the president of the association Jaime Ferreira (picture). The markets organized by Agrobio operate according to a set of regulations that are monitored by the association. “This gives us the reassurance that only organic producers are represented at the markets,” says Ferreira. In each location you find four to 15 stalls, depending on the purchasing power of the area and the level of interest among organic farmers. For the association, the markets mean revenue of 30,000 euros a year, with which it can cover the costs of its other activities. This income pays for carrying out regular inspections in the markets, and once a month samples are taken and examined for pesticide residues. In the last few years, about 100 technical advice contracts have been signed with organic farmers, of whom roughly 30 run stalls, depending on the season. The launch of two new markets is planned for 2013. Other weekly organic markets in Lisbon, Oporto, Coimbra and Faro are run by the municipality or local organisations.
Agrobio also works in schools with the aim of creating awareness. In some cases, school gardens are laid out and, as well as talking to the children, they all cook together in the school kitchens. Another of Agrobio’s projects is advising towns and communities about how they can take advantage of unused building land to set up allotments for the unemployed. Some of the people renting allotments now even sell their surplus at organic markets. Since its launch, the association has brought out its own magazine, and it now has a print-run of 3,000, with copies being sent to paid-up members twice a year.

Since 1988, an organic trade fair has been held in Lisbon and Porto (picture on right) in the north of Portugal. Last year in the capital, exhibitors displayed their products on 120 stands, and in Porto they had 81 stands. They know from experience that this organic event will be attended by 5,000 to 10,000 visitors. From 2013 there will be a new venue for the fair in the Algarve in the south of Portugal. The fair is called Terra Sã, and the next one will take place from 19 - 21.4.2013 in Lisbon. The autumn fair will be held in Porto at the end of November. (Picture on left: An attractive cafe with lunch-time snacks in the organic bakery Quinoa. However, only rolls, bread, some jams and teas are available in organic quality. The cafe was opened in 2010 by the two sisters Filipa and Alexandra Galrao Jorge)

In 2005, another association was founded in Portugal, namely Interbio. With nearly 100 members, it sees itself as a lobby group and umbrella organization, in which processors are included. In 2010, the number of processors in Portugal was estimated to be 270. (Picture on right: Organic market expert Catarina Crisóstomo talking to author Kai Kreuzer)

Whilst processing of organic produce in Portugal has improved in recent years, there are still a lot of gaps that have to be filled with imports. In particular, processors cover only a small proportion of dairy products. There is only one conventional supplier of organic yogurt. Agros offers various fruit yogurts in125 g cartons. What you don’t find is natural yogurt without sugar and larger pack sizes that are produced in Portugal itself. In some product groups the existing Portuguese goods are supplemented with imports to increase the selection offered to customers. The imports come mainly from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Britain, Spain and France. (Picture on left: The department store El Corte Inglès in Lisbon – the biggest retailer of organics in the conventional sector)

In the whole of Portugal there are 60 specialist wholefood shops. As organic market expert Catarina Crisostomo explains, they are predominantly quite small, with a retail area of around 50 m². But things are happening in the conventional trade as well: in the biggest department store in the Spanish chain in Portugal, El Corte Inglès, you find a substantial organic department. On 10-metre long shelves labelled Produtos Biológicos are set out around 350 articles in the dry goods range. There are a lot of organic products in the adjacent, very extensive dietary product section too. About 50 fruit and vegetable products are presented on chilled shelves, a good two metres wide (picture below on left). Everything is packaged in plastic film, as prescribed by the regulations, to avoid confusing them with the loose conventional items. The price level is higher than in specialist shops and shouldn’t therefore constitute competition for them.

Catarina Crisóstomo says that other chains like Sonae Distribuicao, Jerónimo Martins, Auchan, Lidl and the supermarket chain Apolónia in the Algarve offer a somewhat limited organic range. She wrote a report on the situation in Portugal for Organic Europe, and she is now working on a PhD about the organic market in Portugal.
(Pictures on right and left: Organic department at El Corte Inglès in Lisbon)

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