Organic agriculture has grown tremendously over the last few decades, both as a market-driven commercial production and as an environmentally sound and sustainable production method. The 2008 World of Organic Agriculture Report compiled by IFOAM, the Foundation for Ecology and Agriculture, and FiBl shows that 30.4 million hectares in 2006 were certified according to organic standards. Compared to the adjusted data of the previous survey, the global organic area grew by approximately 1.8 million hectares during 2006. A number of European countries have seen a considerable increase in their organically farmed areas. More than 10 per cent of Switzerland ’s farmland is organic, Sweden reached 19 per cent in the year 2005, and about 13 per cent of Austria ’s farms are organic. A number of developing countries are showing significant rates of adoption. In Uganda there are now about 35,000 certified organic farmers; in Mexico , nearly 120,000 small farmers produce certified organic coffee, cacao, fruit, vegetables, spices, corn and beans (Giovanucci 2006). Uruguay has 5.1 per cent of its farmland under organic management (Willer and Yuseffi 2006) and Costa Rica has 2.4 per cent of its farmland.
Organic agriculture offers countries a wide range of economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits. Organic agriculture is relevant both as a certified production method aiming at a separate marketing, as well as non-certified production for consumption by the farmers themselves and the local communities.
Global markets for certified organic products have been growing rapidly over the past two decades. In 2006, sales were estimated to have reached some 38.6 billion euros, a 20% increase over 2005, and are expected to increase to 52 billion euros by 2012. While sales are concentrated in North America and Europe , production is global, with developing countries supplying increasing amounts of ingredients and products each year.
The economic recession in North America and Europe will have an impact on these predictions. Already in the United States the rate of growth for organic sales has declined dramatically since October. There is still strong interest by the most committed consumers in organic and in the areas of fresh vegetables, fruit and milk there is still strong sales growth but in most categories the growth in sales is now 10% or less.
The market in Taiwan is the largest in Asia and is estimated at US$50 million. This is very promising for organic farmers in Taiwan and for imported organic products that are not yet available from Taiwan . Store shelves that have an abundance of organic products, both fresh and processed, stimulate more farm production, a wider availability of packaged organic products and increased sales. As evidenced in the North American and European markets imports play an important role in stimulating growth in domestic production and processing. A strong organic market in your country also opens up the opportunity for export.
Most countries have approached organic as an interesting market niche and have not considered that it could play a role for overall agriculture development. This is perhaps a reasonable approach for a country with limited ambitions for organic. However, this will not accomplish a large-scale adoption of organic agriculture. And it leaves the organic sector at risk if other quality schemes such as Green Food in China , and pesticide-free farming in Thailand are heavily promoted by the government and in the marketplace where they are usually sold at lower cost than organic. While there are good intentions behind these efforts, in reality they often work against organic. In the marketplace they compete with organic for the attention of the consumer and for shelf space. And, they compete with organic for government resource allocation. If such programs are introduced they should be developed to support the transition to organic.
Farmers respond to the conditions around them, including the agriculture policy of their government. Most of the policy measures used to support agriculture discourage sustainable and organic farming. In the short term, this means that farmers switching from high input pesticide farming to sustainable organic farming cannot do so without incurring some transition costs. To some extent, the premium-priced organic market lets the consumers carry the burden of these costs. While the organic market has been instrumental in driving the development of organic thus far, it is questionable that consumers will be continue to, or even if they should in the longer term, pay higher prices for organic products to compensate for the lack of government policies that support organic farming.
We have just heard about the Taiwan government’s goals for agriculture:
• Increased income to the agriculture sector;
• Protection of environment;
• Protection of biodiversity;
• Strengthening the competitiveness of small-scale farmers;
• Protection of human health;
• Increased exports; and
• Promoting quality over quantity as a market strategy.
These goals fit perfectly with the principles of Organic Agriculture – ecology, health, care, and fairness – and certainly organic farming and processing systems can deliver efficiency, traceability, sustainability, innovation and creativity in production techniques and management skills, eliminate the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and maintain and improve biodiversity.
This is a great opportunity for you – the members of ATOAP - to link organic farming to the general objectives for agriculture in Taiwan and to educate the government that organic is the best approach to accomplishing their goals. From what I have seen and heard during my trip to Taiwan from those in the organic sector and in government meetings that I attended, this will not come easily but it is definitely possible. I believe with your energy, commitment and knowledge of Organic Agriculture you can make this happen. Yes, you can!