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Organic uprising: Wallonia enjoys a boom in the eco-food market
Organic food is everywhere. No longer the preserve of farmers markets and specialist stores, consumers can now pick up organic produce in a range of outlets, including supermarkets, artisan shops and vegetable box schemes. The variety of produce on sale continues to rise, from seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables to dairy, delicatessen items and alcohol.
And the growth in the market looks set to increase. A survey by the Walloon Agency for the Promotion of Quality in Agriculture (Apaq-W) showed that 80% of consumers would eat more organic produce in the future. This figure rose to 87% among those aged 18 to 24.
The study of 1,500 people in Wallonia and Brussels confirmed the interest in the development of organic farming, said Apaq-W, who carried out the research to better understand shoppers’ attitudes and expectations.
Apaq-W director Philippe Mattart said that “the loss of confidence in produce originating from the agriculture industry has led consumers naturally toward organic”. He believes the next challenge for the Walloon agency is to “link the local production market and short food supply chains with the organic market” and provide consumers with more detailed information.
Over the past few years, organic farming has established itself firmly in the region. In Wallonia, one farm in eight is organic, representing 91% of organic farming land in Belgium. The consumption of organic produce is similarly rising and now stands at 4.2% of the average household basket.
The Walloon government has been actively supporting the sector. In 2013 it initiated a strategic development plan for organic farming as part of Horizon 2020, an EU research and innovation programme. With the objectives of this plan already reached in December 2017, the target has been raised to reflect the boom in the organic market. An additional investment of €3 million has been earmarked to reach the following increased targets: organic farming on 18% of available agricultural land, 2,000 organic certified farmers and 6% of all food sales.
The agency announced the results at the launch of a campaign in the autumn to promote organic fruit and vegetables, the most popular organic produce for consumers. Under the banner ‘Local organic, natural beauty’, it aimed to boost local production and provide information on the rules and regulations surrounding the organic market.
Promotional material included animation videos, posters to be distributed via producers and stores, and an online competition to win local organic produce that will be publicised on social media.
The launch event was held at La Ferme de la Vallée, a thriving organic farm in the Sambre region of Wallonia. Apaq-W agency invited agricultural minister René Collin, organic certification organisation Certisys and Wallonia produce ambassador Gerald Watelet.
Collin underlined the positive context of organic farming in Wallonia and the means put in place, notably in the framing, research and promotion, to ensure the development of local organic farming, while maintaining its credibility and quality.
“We want organic food in schools, hospitals and creches, prioritising organic and local food production, as well as raising awareness and a sense of collectivity,” said Collin.
La Ferme de la Vallée’s director, Daniel Deprez, described the farm’s successful transition from growing flowers to an organic business selling a complete range of produce. He mentioned the farm’s practice of harvesting tomatoes in the autumn and transforming them into various preparations so that customers could find items all winter. “It’s better than heating greenhouses all winter, which is not part of the organic philosophy,” he said.
This article was first published in the Wab magazine