Ideas for a more competitive organic agriculture.

Biological agriculture, ecological agriculture or organic agriculture are terms that define a type of agriculture which excludes the use of synthesis chemical products such as fertilisers or products for protecting the crops and uses sustainable techniques that are respectful with the environment.

According to the report presented by a German consultancy (FiBL/IFOAM), the world organic food market is estimated at 44.5 million Euros, which makes it a more than interesting niche, above all bearing in mind that it is only very recently, hardly 25 years, that it has been distinguished as a productive sector.

Furthermore, it has to be remembered that although ecological production has spread around the whole planet, real consumption has focused on a few developed countries. In Europe, Germany and the United Kingdom are the countries that most invest in ecological food, although it is in Austria and Luxembourg where organic food accounts for the largest percentage of the shopping basket.1

(1)    Source: “Situación actual y perspectivas de la agricultura ecológica en España” González, V. Vida Rural magazine. 15/05/12.

In 1995, Spain cultivated 24,078 ha. This figure by 2005 had risen to 807,569 ha. In 2010, the surface area put over to ecological agriculture had reached a figure of 1,674,119 ha, making our country the European leader in production (2)

(2)    Source: Ministry of Agriculture Food and Environment.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment also indicated in the data corresponding to the period from 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010, that each Spaniard consumes 35.4 kg of ecological products and spends around 29 Euros on this demand. Ecological foods therefore accounts for 1.9% of total food expenditure made by Spanish households and has shown a clear rising tendency in the last 10 years. However, we are still a long way behind the consumption in countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom, to give but two examples.

Years ago the European Union created a commission of experts to start to promote “Organic Agriculture”. I formed part of this commission and everything seems to indicate that this is just at the beginning.

Correct positioning before consumers

In a globalised agriculture where Spain has lost price competitiveness against productions from other non-European countries, this differentiated agriculture might relieve the situation. But for this promising possibility to become reality, apart from the correct product, price and distribution policy, there will be two key factors: credibility and the correct positioning of these products in consumers’ minds.

Credibility has to do with product policy and can be the Achilles heel of this agriculture, above all regarding the use of biological products for vegetable protection. The European ecological production regulations established requirements and restrictions on fertilising and phytosanitary products which all ecological producers must know and which since 2007 have been regulated by regulation 834/2007 of the Council concerning the production and labelling of ecological products. Thanks to the regulation there is legislation covering the manufacture and use of these natural products ranging from control using the plagues’ natural enemies to plant extracts. This regulation and later control have been key to the picaresque, ignorance or negligence endangering the safety of crops, farmers, the environment and the consumers themselves.

With respect to the decision on the positioning, as we want consumers to perceive these “bio” products and to choose them over the “others”, it is necessary to be careful and reflexive, for the positioning is something that is achieved in the long-term and must therefore not be changed, must be unique, relevant and attractive for consumers.

To make this agriculture, the production costs of which are usually higher than those of conventional agriculture, good business, we have to give these foods a positioning that makes them perceived as superior, but in what?

Analysing the advertising support and contents promoting these foods both in Spain and in Europe, the first conclusion may be drawn: these foods and ecological agriculture are placed excessively against the conventional. This leads us to focus on the content of the messages, on how natural it is and its lack of chemical waste as the only value. In other words, what is sold is health, which has its advantages but also its limitations.

The advantage of this positioning is obvious, for it gives a value that is highly appreciated by society taking care of their health and also concerned for preserving the environment.

The limitation is also clear: the food health aspects are highly regulated and we have recently heard the allegations that the EU allows to be used on the labels, as long as the qualities are scientifically demonstrated.

 

I believe that this modern, healthy value must be balanced with others of equal importance: the flavour and the pleasure. I would say that we do not eat to be cured or not fall ill, but rather to satiate our hunger and enjoy and if we also eat balanced meals with ecological products, we will also enjoy better health.

Therefore, the correct positioning in my opinion will be one that bears in mind both values.

IN THE HIGHLIGHT, PUT ONLY ECOLOGICAL FARMER

Flavour, competitive factor

The weakness of these foods is often their appearance, which makes it more necessary to bear in mind the flavour as a competitive factor defining the quality beyond the appearance.

When we persuade a new consumer to purchase this product for the first time, as it is something new they will focus their whole attention on the subjective experience of flavour and will compare this same food with previous experiences held in their memory. This is the key time when the new experience can leave them indifferent if they find no differences, or be gratifying or even surprising.

If the experience leaves them indifferent, the only thing they can do is to think that they are eating more healthily, but this is undoubtedly only a half-way measure. Therefore I believe ecological farmers should strive to produce flavoursome food, something which will always be easier than with conventional agriculture.

 

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