ORGAPET Section A1:
Introduction to Organic Action Plans and the ORGAP Project

Otto Schmid
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Frick, CH

Nic Lampkin
Aberystwyth University, UK

Version 6, April 2008

A1-1      The policy context for organic action plans

A1-1.1      The EU action plan for organic food and farming

In June 2004, the European Commission released the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming (see also Annex A1-1). The plan aims to support the development of the European organic food market related to consumer demand and to support organic land management for its environmental and other public benefits. Its scope covers the organic regulation and standards through to promotion campaigns, research and rural development policy. With this action plan, the Commission intends to lay down the basis for organic farming policy development in Europe in future years.

The European action plan has outlined 21 points, which relate to the following areas:

  1. Consumer information and promotion campaigns;
  2. Improved research, market intelligence and statistical data collection;
  3. Full utilisation of the rural development programme and other existing options to support organic farming;
  4. Improving the transparency, scope and implementation of the regulation defining organic farming.

The justification for the plan is based on the background analysis prepared by the Commission (Annex A1-2), which was the result of a three-year consultation process with experts and stakeholders, as well as Commission, European Parliament and Member State representatives. Inspired by action plan initiatives at national level (see below), the process started with calls for the development of a European action plan for organic food and farming, with major themes discussed at the international conference on Organic Food and Farming: Towards Partnership and Action in Europe at Copenhagen in May 2001, organised by the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Copenhagen. As a result of this conference, the concept of a European action plan was debated by the Council of Agriculture Ministers in June 2001 and the European Commission was requested to come forward with a proposal to promote organic food and farming and present appropriate proposals. In December 2002, a Commission staff working document entitled "Analysis of the possibility of a European Action Plan for organic food and farming" was prepared. After an Internet consultation in February/March 2003 and a Hearing in January 2004, the Commission presented the action plan to the Council and Parliament in March 2004. The plan was published in June 2004 and was formally accepted by the Council of Ministers in October 2004 with specific recommendations for priority actions. Further details of the process can be found in Annex A1-4, as well as on the EU action plan website.

The publication of the plan has attracted a range of responses from researchers (e.g. Annex A1-4), from the Council of Ministers (Annex A1-5), from the European Parliament (Annex A1-6) and from the IFOAM EU Group (Annex A1-7). These responses illustrate the range of different (and sometimes conflicting) visions for the development of organic farming which the action plan is seeking to address.

In the meantime, the European Commission has started to implement the actions (see Annex A1-3). The most significant initiative is the publication of the new Council Regulation 834/2007 defining organic food and farming. The various and strong reactions during the development of this regulation show that the assumptions underlying the recommendations of the European action plan are controversial to some stakeholder groups and, consequently, may need assessment regarding their relevance and practical consequences for the development of organic food and farming. The usual method of undertaking such an assessment is to implement a systematic evaluation.

The EU action plan did not emerge in isolation from developments elsewhere, in particular the development of action plans and other policies at national level, so that it is also important to set the EU plan in its broader context.

A1-1.2      Background to the development of organic action plans

Policies to support organic farming first appeared in the late 1980s and are now widely applied in Europe, with increasing acceptance of the potential for organic farming to address key policy goals such as environmental protection, animal welfare and rural development. At the European level, Regulations 2092/91 (organic farming), 2078/92 (agri-environment), 1257/1999 and 1698/2005 (rural development) and 1260/1999 (structural funds) have played a key role in facilitating this process. However, evaluations of early policies (e.g. Lampkin et al., 1999; Dabbert et al., 2004) have shown that the initial emphasis on area-based direct income payments, as provided for under agri-environment measures, could distort the potential of the market also to support the development of organic farming.

Increasingly, EU member states have emphasised the need to balance such supply-push policies with more market-focused demand-pull policies, but they have also recognised the need for information-related measures (including research, training and advice) to improve the performance of systems and quality of outputs at both production and market levels and, thereby, to enhance the potential contribution of organic farming to broader policy goals. These issues are discussed further in Annex A1-4, as well as in ORGAPET Section A3.

Several countries and, in some cases, sub-regions have recognised the need to integrate this complex mix of measures more effectively and have used the action plan idea since the mid-1990s to improve policy-making for organic farming. Action plans can be found in most EU member states (e.g. Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and regions of Ireland, Italy, Spain (Andalusia) and the four nations of the United Kingdom), with a plan for the whole of Spain. These organic farming action plans normally include targets for adoption (typically 5-10% of land area by 2000/2005 or 10-20% by 2010) and a combination of specific measures including direct income support through the agri-environment/rural development programmes; marketing and processing support; certification support, producer information initiatives (research, training and advice); consumer education and infrastructure support. Some examples are reviewed in Annex A1-4 but a more comprehensive comparative review of action plans has been undertaken as part of the ORGAP project (Annex A1-8).

The more detailed plans contain evaluations of the current situation and problems faced by the sector and specific recommendations to address the issues identified, including measures to ameliorate potential conflicts between different policy measures. The range of approaches adopted, however, illustrates the problems and the political pressures inherent in achieving this. From this perspective, it is important to understand the process of developing and implementing action plans, including stakeholder involvement as well as the broader political and institutional context when evaluating action plans. The issue of conflict and synergies between national or regional action plans and the European action plan would also need to be addressed, especially in countries with more decentralised administrations. The experience of these countries is therefore important when developing criteria and evaluation procedures which can be used later for the European action plan – this work is a key part of the ORGAP project.

A1-2      Why is there a need to evaluate organic action plans and the EU action plan in particular?

Since 1997, there have been a number of national and international reviews and evaluations of organic farming policies. At the international level, the European Commission and Austrian Government sponsored a conference in Vienna in 1999. In 2001, the Danish Government sponsored a conference in Copenhagen. The OECD workshop on organic agriculture in Washington DC in autumn 2002 also provided important opportunities to debate policy issues in the light of national experiences and to identify the potential for multilateral collaboration. A number of EU-funded research projects (OFCAP, CONVERSION, OMIaRD, DG-ENVIRO, EU-CEE-OFP) have analysed policies for organic farming and the potential for further developments. At national level, studies of organic farming policies and evaluations of national action plans, have been commissioned in Germany, Denmark, France, Netherlands, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. However, these analyses have tended to focus on specific measures such as market or direct income support schemes. There is still no integrated evaluation approach being followed which looks at the short and long-term impact of different policy measures along the whole organic food supply chain.

The evaluation of policies for organic farming is complex due to a number of factors. Firstly, from the policy-makers’ perspective, the development of the organic food and farming sector can be seen as an intermediate goal, which is important not just for itself but also in terms of the potential contribution to the major policy goals of environmental protection, animal welfare, rural development and social wellbeing. From the stakeholders’ perspective however, the impacts on the organic sector itself are most likely to be of higher priority. The European action plan recognises this in identifying a dual role for organic farming:

Furthermore, although it specifies the need to develop a balanced approach addressing both roles, the European action plan contains no clear statement on where organic farming fits within the future development of European agriculture and few action points focus on the public good aspects (Annex A1-4).

There is therefore a real need to understand to what extent the action plans deliver on the aims and objectives of the different parties involved. The differing perspectives and priorities of different groups in society may lead to different conclusions as to the costs and benefits of specific policies or policy mixes.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the organic farming concept is attempting to address multiple goals simultaneously, consistent with the concept of multi-functional agriculture and multi-objective approaches to agricultural sustainability. This makes it difficult to link specific outcomes directly to individual policy measures. Thus it could be that a targeted policy might address a single objective more effectively, but across a range of policy objectives, a multi-objective farming systems approach such as organic farming, supported by an integrated mix of policy measures, might yield greater total benefits or deliver similar benefits more cost-effectively.

There is therefore the need for a suitable, scientifically-based evaluation concept and tool to evaluate such a broad policy approach both at national and EU levels. In order to optimise the European action plan, appropriate evaluation criteria, tools and concepts should be developed which will help to analyse the impacts of individual actions at a European and national level and give guidance to the Commission and governments. This is the key task for the ORGAP project.

A1-3      The ORGAP project

The European-funded research project ORGAP (Evaluation of the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming) was established to provide scientific support for the implementation of the European action plan and to assess its long-term and short-term effects. The project ran for three years from May 2005.

The project partnership consisted of 10 partners from 9 countries, covering different disciplines, stakeholder views and experiences with national action plans for Organic Agriculture.

The project set out to:

The ORGAP evaluation toolbox is intended to be useful to, and usable by, a range of involved stakeholders, including national and EU administrations and policy-makers, as well as organic sector and other NGOs.

A1-3.1      What the project covers

Within the project, the following working areas were addressed:

1.      Development of the organic action plan evaluation toolbox (ORGAPET), incorporating quantitative and qualitative product and process indicators covering the key areas of the EU organic action plan, building on existing socio-economic and agri-environmental policy evaluation methods (MEANS, IRENA) and incorporating work from current and previous projects on organic farming policy analysis and development. Stakeholder input into the development of the toolbox was emphasised, with the development of the toolbox seen as an on-going, iterative process with several versions being debated and tested.

2.      General overview and status quo analysis of national action plan objectives, design and implementation in 8 case study countries. Group interviews with stakeholders in the case study countries were used to assess the feasibility of applying the ORGAPET approach at national level and to prepare for its application at the European level, including a focus group discussion on the identification of areas of conflict and/or synergy between objectives of national and EU action plans, and their significance for the implementation of the EU action plan at national level.

3.      Early assessment of the potential risks and problems associated with specific policy-relevant areas and assistance in the initial implementation of the EU organic action plan by offering a structure for thinking through the likelihood, seriousness and probability of detection of potential problems. This also involved the testing of the ORGAP evaluation toolbox at the European level in the context of the early stages of implementing the EU organic action plan.

4.      Synthesis of the results of the analyses of national action plans and the implementation of the EU action plan, taking into account potential conflict/synergy areas and risk/problems. Policy conclusions relating to the implementation and development of EU and national action plans were identified. On the basis of the testing in earlier work packages, the ORGAP evaluation toolbox was revised and a manual for the initiation and evaluation of action plans produced.

5.      Effective integration of stakeholders in the project work by means of national workshops, interviews with national stakeholders, European advisory committee meetings, electronic discussion groups and other means of consultation with/dissemination to stakeholders and non-academic audiences. In addition, a European seminar was organised in order to present results of early work packages and consider issues for more detailed analysis in later work packages.

A1-3.2      The ORGAP Evaluation Toolbox (ORGAPET)

The evaluation toolbox developed in this project is a collection and description of different evaluation tools, methods and techniques, as well as data and information resources, structured so as to lead through each step of an evaluation. The ORGAPET overview provides a synopsis of each section. As part of the ORGAP project a manual for initiating and evaluating action plans has been developed. This is intended to serve two functions: a) to be a tool for stakeholder involvement in future action plan development and implementation processes at national and regional, as well as EU level and b) to provide a guide to the use of ORGAPET. The toolbox itself, with more detailed instructions aimed at administrators of evaluations (not necessarily expert evaluators), is available on CD-ROM (with the manual) and the Internet. Key principles for the evaluation of organic action plans and other policies are set out in ORGAPET Section A2.

A1-4          References

Dabbert, S.; A. M. Häring and R. Zanoli (2004) Organic Farming: Policies and Prospects. Zed Books, London.

Lampkin, N.; C. Foster; S. Padel and P. Midmore (1999) The Policy and Regulatory Environment for Organic Farming in Europe. Organic Farming in Europe: Economics and Policy, Vols. 1 and 2, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart.

A1-5      Annexes

The Annexes to each section are intended to provide background documentation and/or data resources, as well as examples of the guidelines and results where the methods proposed have already been applied in an organic farming context.

Annex A1-1  EU action plan for organic food and farming (EU Commission, 2004)                     

Annex A1-2  EU action plan background analysis (EU Commission, 2004)

Annex A1-3  EU action plan progress overview (Schmid and Gonzálvez, 2007, updated April 2008)

Annex A1-4  EU action plan discussion paper (Lampkin and Stolze, 2005)

Annex A1-5  EU Council of Ministers’ response to EU action plan (2004)

Annex A1-6  EU Parliament response to EU action plan (2005)

Annex A1-7  IFOAM EU Group response to EU action plan (2004)

Annex A1-8  ORGAP report: comparative documentation of national organic action plans (Stolze et al., 2007)