Organic conference in Izmir a great success

Author: Kai Kreuzer

180 people from 21 countries attended the “Fourth International Conference on the Organic Sector Development in Central/Eastern European and Central Asian Countries” that came to an end on 15 April 2012. The two-day conference addressed the theme “Maintaining and Improving the Integrity of the Organic Sector”. In addition to the conference itself, participants could take advantage of two day-long excursions to farms in the region. For many people attending the conference, mostly from countries in Central Asia and the host country Turkey, the conference provided an ideal opportunity to catch up on the latest information and discussions in the organic sector. (Picture: The conference was held in the centre of Izmir)

 

Maintaining and Improving the Integrity of the Organic Sector“ – the key topic of the conference in Izmir on Turkey’s Aegean coast – was subjected to comprehensive in-depth analysis in 54 for the most part high-calibre lectures delivered by speakers from a wide range of countries and backgrounds. The lectures were given in English, Turkish or Russian, with a team of interpreters providing simultaneous translation for listening via headphones.

Special mention should be made of the strategic contributions in the plenary sessions by Elisabeth Rüegg Deutsch-Türkische Zusammenarbeit Ökologische Landwirtschaft (German-Turkish Cooperation Project Organic Agriculture), Michel Reynaud (picture on left) Ecocert, Gerald A. Herrmann Organic Services, Dr. Jochen Neuendorff GfRs, Robert Simmons Organic Services US and Prof. Dr. Uygun Aksoy Ege-University, whose observations ranged along the whole value chain and all the actors involved.

The core topic of the Izmir conference, namely integrity, was treated in depth in three parallel theme blocks. The first block addressed different aspects of the development of the eco-sector, organization in economic clusters and private guarantee systems and regulations. The second strand, dealing with training and other ways of improving quality management, was planned and carried out in collaboration with German-Turkish Cooperation Project Organic Agriculture, that is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV) and implemented by FiBL. These were among the best attended sessions at the conference. They emphasized the deficiencies that still exist in this sector. The third theme block, organized in collaboration with the international Textile Exchange, dealt with issues, examples and solutions relating to the value chains in textiles.

Presented by Dr. Jochen Neuendorff (picture), a workshop was held that included six lectures. He pointed to the results of the Anti Fraud Initiative and called for more determined steps to be taken to combat organic fraud more effectively, more risk assessments and, when proven irregularities have occurred, more follow-up checks plus the quicker exchange of information between everyone involved – in particular between control bodies and the supervisory authorities. Neuendorff estimates that, internationally, at the moment “only 50 % of requests for information are answered“. According to Robert Simmons from Organic Services in the USA, the situation there is similar: “There’s a far too long delay between cases of fraud occurring and being publicized.” Moreover, the Operator List of organic companies, that exists in this form only in the USA, still contains many errors and is published only once as year. The American was forthright in his demands: “We need a dynamic and up-to-date list on the internet and specific training to teach inspectors how to combat fraud, and maybe even a fraud squad. In a very interesting and practice-oriented lecture, Hans Braeckman Fytolab followed up the ideas of Neuendorff and Simmons with his presentation of the perspective and the problems of a laboratory.

The Swedish Hanna Denes presented the lobbying and consulting work carried out by the internationally known organization Textile Exchange that publishes annually a detailed status report on eco-fibre production and the market. In recent years, the share of organic cotton has developed pleasingly from 0.1 % to over 1 %, which is mainly down to the big conventional textile firms like C&A and Nike. More than 200,000 farmers now earn a good living in this segment. 50 % of the fairtrade production now has an organic certificate, as Rossitza Krüger from FLO (picture) explained.

A working group dealt with the founding and organization of so-called organic clusters. For a number of years there has been a project, supported by the EU, that promotes cooperation and networking within the industry. Seven partners are working together in the project – four in Turkey and one each in Germany, France and Greece.

In another group, the development of organic agriculture in Ukraine (picture: Dr. Eugene Milovanov), Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Macedonia was presented.

It was good to see that the organizers were keen to involve commercial enterprises. They were emphatic that upholding the integrity of the value chain is not just the duty of legislators and inspection systems but is an issue that everyone must tackle. Internal quality systems and audits and complete transparency at every step along the way to the field or to the finished product are a prerequisite for incontestable and credible products – for the protection both of the consumer and companies and their brands in equal measure.

With the brand Pan Eko, Andriy Konyashin from Ukragrofin (Ukraine) demonstrated the effort that had gone into developing a product line that is transparent along the whole value chain “from the field to the plate“ for the domestic market in Europe’s biggest country. Turkish companies like Çaykur (picture) and Isik (food), Sanko and Egedeniz (textiles), but also international companies like the Martin Bauer Group, introduced their concepts and strategies for transparent, credible value chains, social responsibility and responsibility for the environment.

Vildan Karaarslan from the Ministry of Agriculture in Ankara provided a very thorough overview of the development of organic agriculture in Turkey. However, the fact that the whole PowerPoint presentation was in Turkish only was a drawback, especially as the simultaneous translation was not adequate for dealing with the wealth of figures. Among other things, she went into the details of the further training programme in organics for farmers which offered 3,700 courses between 2004 and 2011 that were taken up by about 80,000 farmers. Other lectures illustrated where the main points of emphasis lie in the development of organics in Turkey. For example, the production centres for black tea, that are organized by the state firm Çaykur, and for hazelnuts are located on the Black Sea coast. 2,000 ha of organic hazelnuts are grown in the Samsun region and about 1000 t are harvested every year. Cultivation began in the early 1990s with the German firm Rapunzel, that was unfortunately not represented at the conference. The aim was to create whole eco-villages to develop organic agriculture in the region.

With the conference partner Atila Ertem from the Turkish organic association ETO as presenter, the closing event took place with contributions about the organic weekly market in Izmir and information from Günesin Aydemir about the next IFOAM annual general meeting and the Organic World Congress in Istanbul in 2014. In the last few weeks, the Bugday association (picture) has started preparations for the next world meeting of the organic movement.

In the final declaration of the conference, presented to the plenary session by Gerald Herrmann (picture) from Organic Services, the principal theme was fraud prevention and organic integrity. “We’ll never prevent fraud completely, but we can focus on eliminating risk,” said Herrmann. He said they should not rely on certificates and control bodies alone but should scrutinize the whole value chain, and getting to know the responsible individuals on a personal level was important too. His final advice: “If in doubt, don’t accept the services of a manufacturer, farmer or haulage company or even a product.” In his view, the sooner a problem is recognised, the less it costs to resolve it. Credibility and integrity had to be natural characteristics of the top management in each and every company.

The International Conference on the Organic Sector Development in Central/Eastern Europe and Central Asian Countries was organized for the fourth time on//at the initiative of Organic Services as the main organizer and the Organic Federation of Ukraine. The local partner for this year’s fourth conference was the Turkish umbrella organization ETO. Susanne Krause from Organic Services and Özge Cicekli from ETO deserve special thanks for the flawless preparation and running of the conference.

At the same time as the organic conference was being held in Izmir, the organic trade fair Ekoloji 2012 was taking place in the next hall. 110 exhibitors (2011: 147 exhibitors) came to Izmir for four days to provide the approximately 8,000 visitors (2011: 7,910) with information and contacts with organic firms in Turkey. The fair was inaugurated twelve years ago by Tufan Atalayman from the company ASDF. The fair used to be held in Istanbul but moved a few years ago to Izmir and is now organized by Izmir-Fairs. Manufacturers of wholefoods and natural cosmetics, wholefood stores, delivery services, control bodies and organic associations were all represented with their stands at the fair. The products and firms were almost exclusively Turkish, the exception being the stand of a Turkish importer in the entrance area to the fair that displayed natural cosmetics by Lavera and household products by Urtekram and Klar.

19.04.2012

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