No interruption in the development of Hungarian organic farming – the area given over to organic agriculture has doubled in the last five years
What will the future bring? An online conference was organized by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi), entitled ’Trends and Challenges in Sustainable Agriculture’.
During this conference it was revealed that in 2019 the area of the agricultural land devoted to organic agriculture exceeded 300,000 hectares, more than double the area five years ago. The new European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is currently being formulated, provides an opportunity to further support organic food production and consumption, which domestic producers must also take advantage of. At the same time, participants at the conference also emphasized that in addition to a dynamic increase in territory under organic cultivation, it is important to focus the resources made available in the next support cycle on developing the organic food production chain, and expanding the domestic market.
“In 2019 the size of the area under organic cultivation in Hungary increased to 303,000 hectares. This means that the territory of organic farming has doubled in size in the last five years,” said Dr. Zsolt Feldman, Secretary of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, in his opening speech at the ÖMKi sectoral conference. The Secretary of State went on to emphasize that “the almost HUF 100 billion supplied by the Rural Development Program, which farmers could apply for either to switch to or to maintain organic farming practices, has significantly contributed to this expansion.”
Size of areas under organic cultivation and enterprises related to them
In tandem with the impressive growth in the size of areas under organic cultivation, enterprises related to them have also developed dynamically. While in 2015, the number of business owners with organic accreditation stood at around 2300, by 2019 that number had risen to 5600. Dr. Dóra Drexler, Director of ÖMKi and Vice President of IFOAM Organics Europe (the European umbrella organisation for organic food and farming) expanded on these common goals as follows: “This increase in numbers is very welcome, and also shows the growing importance of this sector for Hungary as a whole. However, the goal is not merely to increase the size of the area farmed organically, but to exponentially increase the amount and availability of organic produce, and to use subsidies to expand the domestic market for organic products.” She later went on to say that “within the EU, the market for organic products is growing by 8-10% a year. Subsidies should be used to help farmers make the most of this economic opportunity, while also producing more sustainably.”
Zsolt Feldman stressed that the development of the new European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and related Hungarian strategic planning are both still ongoing. They are counting on the advice and recommendations of those currently active within the organic sector, so that from 2023 a support structure can be established which most effectively serves their common goals. The Secretary of State for Agriculture and Rural Development also drew attention to the fact that in the so-called transition period, before the new CAP comes into effect, the ministry will extend by one year the support for organic farms which would otherwise expire in 2020. Those farmers affected will have to expressly request this extension, for which proof of land use rights will be of paramount importance.
How can organic agriculture achieve a 25% share of cultivated land?
Naturally, the objective set out by the European Green Deal, according to which 25% of agricultural land within a Member State should be farmed organically by 2030, was also raised at this conference. “The European Commission is aware of the differing circumstances of different Member States, so each Member State will be responsible for drawing up its own so-called Organic Action Plan, which should set achievable but ambitious goals” said Eric Gall, the Deputy Director of IFOAM Organics Europe.
“It is therefore incumbent upon domestic agriculture, and within it the organic sector, to determine an acceptable and realistic target. In addition to regional growth, targeted product line developments and an expansion of the domestic consumer base for organic products will also be necessary, in order to move from the currently dominant paradigm of exporting raw materials, towards higher value-added organic products destined for the domestic market” said Dr. Dóra Drexler.
New Legislation, current negotiations
In addition to the new CAP, a new package of legislation on organic farming is being prepared at a European level for production, supervision and marketing, which is expected to enter into force in January 2022. In the context of legislation and the future of the sector, the conference speakers pointed out that the EU Organic Agriculture Action Plan will be open to public consultation until November 27th, 2020. Eric Gall, the Deputy Director of IFOAM Organics Europe, highlighted that the sector expects specific, time-bound targets and a regular review progress from the Community Action Plan, and recommended that these be incorporated into the plans of Member States as well.