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“This year’s Earth Day is a milestone”

Now is the time for a real ecological turnaround. ÖMKi: the basics of global food supply need to be redefined.

This year’s Earth Day is a milestone in the history of humanity: the coronavirus pandemic came like a slap in the face and drew attention to the direct impacts of humanity’s destruction of the eco-system. “Global trading has paved the way towards establishing more and more uni-dimensional and intensive agricultural systems, which has caused the destruction of natural habitats and a major reduction in biodiversity. In recent decades, industrial agriculture - driven by our consumption habits - has created the conditions for the emergence and the spread of viruses that are dangerous to humanity” – this is how the process was summarized by Dr. Dóra Drexler, director of the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi). The crisis in global food supply chains, which is one of the most damaging consequences, is also threatening a humanitarian crisis. “Now is the time for a real ecological turnaround. The crisis is an undelayable opportunity to redefine our food production and supply systems at a strategic level and in a sustainable spirit” – continued Dr. Drexler, who is overseeing the first “living laboratory” in Hungarian agriculture. ÖMKi has defined methodological proposals for reforming the Hungarian food supply of the future.

A 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) report stated that climate change, deforestation, unsustainable land use and the reduction of biodiversity increase the risk of dangerous pathogens spreading, and are thus knocking down the natural walls that protect humanity. The risks are further extended by the humanity’s increased interaction with wild animals, which is becoming more and more commonplace due to the destruction of habitats, the spread of industrial agriculture and the accelerated urbanization.

“The spread of industrial agriculture, used to serve our consumer habits as cheaply as possible and to boost the worldwide food trade, has revealed that we have paved the way for an epidemic crisis. Therefore, it is the wrong strategy to think about starting again without making any changes” – warned Dr. Drexler. ÖMKi takes the view that the milestones for a turnaround done in the right way can already be seen. After the shock, the market across Europe reacted quickly: local self-organized food supply groups and community-supported agriculture (CSA system) have gained momentum. “The evolving from-soil-to-plate trend forecasts the strengthening of a new food supply paradigm, and simultaneously highlights the basic deficiencies of the current food production structure. The crisis is an opportunity for European reform that is worked out with agro-ecological methods and based on truly sustainable solutions” she continued. Agroecology is an independent branch of science. It seeks to answer the question of what natural laws humanity can use to ensure and extend the efficiency of food production with sustainable methods.

In the European Green Deal the European Union was a pioneer in laying down the principles of the sustainability turnaround, and the Farm to Fork strategy is also being elaborated in this spirit. As there are already signs that some European countries want to postpone the green agricultural turnaround in the Common Agricultural Policy in light of the economic crisis, ÖMKi has defined methodological proposals for reforming domestic food supplies by assuming responsibility for the future.

The organization takes the view that the primary focus should be put on sustainable supply chains, and their development and market viability must be promoted with the future system of agricultural support. To that end, ÖMKi encourages the systematic application of the “living laboratory” methodology instead of point-wise financial interventions. This is because lasting solutions can only be worked out with the active involvement of the actors in the product paths. Horizon Europe - the European research framework programme - also holds the view that living laboratories function as the trigger of agro-ecological switchover but they can also become incubators for new business models which can help provide permanent subsistence for domestic farmers. “The emergency has caused an explosive growth of demand in the market of local products. Maintaining this is an opportunity that comes from the crisis, and it has to go together with placing domestic food production on an innovative, sustainable path.” – pointed out Dr. Drexler.

In addition to transforming the production side, ÖMKi thinks it is indispensable to enhance consumer awareness and to promote domestic organic products and short supply chains. This will ensure that sustainable food produced in Hungary is not only taken to export markets but may serve the health of Hungarian people.

The Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) works on research-innovation tasks leading to practically implementable results, thus guaranteeing the sustainable development of agriculture and food production in Hungary. To this end, the organization develops professional networks in cooperation with Hungarian and international research institutes and farmers, carries out research and information activities, and provides technical advice. Its oldest project called “On-farm research network” won the Agricultural Development Prize at the 78th National Agriculture and Food Exhibition and Fair (OMÉK) and also the E.on Energy Globe Award in 2018, and it is the only Hungarian project carrying out research in close cooperation with farmers by applying a practical approach to sustainable agriculture. The on-farm research method covers simple experiments conducted in real-life situations on operating farms adapted to the production objectives defined by the farmers. The subjects of the experiments have been elaborated together by ÖMKi and the participating farms since 2012. The organization’s work has also been acknowledged by the Association of Environmental Enterprises through the charter called “For the protection of the environment” in 2019. The network is going to be further extended until 2023 from the EU fund of HUF 1.1 billion awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Hungarian Rural Network (MNVH).

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The on-farm project is moving up a level

Although the groundbreaking concept of “Living Lab”, which will lead to a paradigm shift in the field of scientific research, is to be introduced in the European Union only in the next few years, by creating the on-farm network we already started working on a similar concept in 2012. Instead of the theoretical analysis of scientific questions, we conduct practice oriented research by implementing site-specific participatory research projects in cooperation with farmers. Our on-farm project can expand further by 2023 due to the 3.4 million Euro European Union funding granted by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Hungarian National Rural Network (MNVH).



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