Organic Agriculture: A catalyst for a Green Economy
As part of its mandate to assist governments in reshaping policies and investment priorities for a greener future, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is actively participating in the Greening Economies in the Eastern Neighbourhood (EaP GREEN) programme – financed by the European Commission and implemented jointly among UNEP, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Under this initiative, UNEP’s aim is to create momentum for transitioning towards a green economy in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) by building local capacity for expanding and capitalising upon the trade opportunities offered by organic agriculture.
Green agricultural practices and technologies help to simultaneously address issues of environmental degradation and social poverty. As a result of historically low levels of pesticide and fertilizer usage, a large share of small farms, high availability of agricultural labour and close proximity to the rapidly growing EU organic market, the EECCA is a region ideal for the promotion of organic agriculture.
In addition, considering agriculture’s substantial contribution to the total GDP of many countries in this region, a shift to more widespread organic production offers a range of opportunities such as developing new businesses in farming and processing; creating new and more rewarding jobs; building and preserving natural capital; improving ecosystem services; as well as reducing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other socio-environmental externalities of agricultural activity in the region.
These potential benefits were underlined by UNEP’s comprehensive scoping studies on green economy and organic agriculture in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine, that were carried out in 20111. These studies revealed concrete commercial benefits of expanding organic production in the region, namely that:
- Higher prices of organic produce will improve the standard of living of rural communities;
- Organic production allows farmers to access stable markets in integrated modern value chains and, therefore, introduces lower transaction costs, better control and information flow;
- Organic production requires new inputs (e.g. biological pest control agents), equipment, knowledge and services – all of which create new businesses and job opportunities.
The scoping studies have shown that mainstreaming organic agriculture can play a decisive role in a transition towards sustainable and socially-inclusive economic growth. They identified a package of capacity building, policy reform and investment measures to realize the potential of organic agriculture for catalysing such a transition in EECCA.
“In the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) region, organic agriculture could play a catalyst role in green economy transformation by re-vitalizing the farm and food sector and creating employment that provides better returns on per unit of labour input all along the value chain”.
Promoting Organic Agriculture under EaP-GREEN
The organic agriculture component of EaP-GREEN – led by UNEP – focuses on expanding domestic organic agri-food supply chains and fostering foreign organic trade exchanges. Currently, the project focuses on awareness raising and capacity building in Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The project outcomes, as well as the experiences and lessons learned during its implementation, should offer ideas and opportunities for scaling up a green economy transition across the EECCA region. In particular, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia stand to benefit from, and will thus also be involved in the discussions surrounding this project.
Through its participation in EaP-GREEN, UNEP aims to:
- Collect and disseminate background information on the current state of national organic sectors, trade activities, and capacity needs in the EECCA;
- Enhance stakeholders’ understanding of the current opportunities associated with the development of organic agriculture as well as its connection to poverty reduction, environmental management and sustainable trade opportunities;
- Facilitate national coordination and cooperation amongst policy makers, the private sector and civil society, while also creating linkages to relevant international stakeholders;
- Increase EECCA’s production and trade of organic agricultural products by building farm- and company-level capacity to link their distribution chains to growing European and international organic markets;
- Demonstrate the value and feasibility of a sub-regional organic agriculture standard.
The project seeks to achieve the above-mentioned aims via the following three main activities:
- Provision of training, market information, and marketing tools to farms and companies to prepare them for establishing and expanding businesses and trade in organic agriculture. This also includes identifying tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade in organic products, guiding companies in packaging, branding, and marketing their products, and documenting best practices and lessons learnt from the project activities.
- Organisation of three annual regional conferences on organic agriculture with participation of policy-makers, export promotion bodies and the private sector. These workshops will aim to catalyse (i) the development and subsequent implementation of a roadmap for policies and supply chain partnerships that promote production and trade of organic agricultural products; (ii) the development of capacity and the sharing of information about economic, environmental and poverty reduction benefits of investing in organic agriculture; and (iii) the creation of momentum in the region for transitioning towards a green economy through organic agriculture. Aside from these workshops, UNEP will also support the participation of selected farms and companies in Biofach – a high level international organic trade fair.
- Development of a feasibility study for a sub-regional organic standard in consultation with government agencies, farms, companies and/or business associations representing them. The feasibility study will be based on (i) a cost-benefit analysis of using the standard against continuing with business-as-usual; and (ii) a comparison of existing national standards. The study will compile a roadmap to operationalize the standard at farm and company level.
“The organic sector merits public sector support in terms of policy reforms and investment as many of the benefits of organic agriculture are passed on to society as a whole rather than staying with just the farmers and private investors”.
UNEP Green Economy Country Study Summaries
- 1. Organic Agriculture: A Step towards the Green Economy in the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia region, UNEP, (2011). Available here