Wealth of organic policy options for national governments

First the good news, where the ink has hardly dried on some of it yet:

  • On the basis of the EU Green Deal, Farm-to-Fork plan and Organic Action Plan, and the organic sector’s hard-won goal for 25% organic in the entire EU, the EU Commission has nudged, inspired and pressured member states to set their own organic goals. And develop policy to back these goals up.
  • After plowing through the CAP Strategic Plans for agriculture in all 27 EU member states, Nic Lampkin and Jürn Sanders at Thünen Institute have provided us with an initial overview last week. We now know that all EU nations will subsidize organic transition and have set goals, giving an average of double up on organics. All nations have some kind of policies. That’s new.
  • There is a wealth of tested organic policies that member states can use to reach these goals.

And perhaps the best news: The Commission confirms that organic policies not only develop the organic sector, but also to contribute to goals for climate, nature, water quality, animal welfare, rural livelihoods, and public health. It would be difficult to find any other policy area that can contribute to so many elements of human and planetary health more than these investments in organic policy.

Now the necessary news:

Double up only gets us to 15 percent, not 25. And very few EU nations, actually none, have developed adequate policy measures to reach even these goals. The French government got hammered in a report by the French Court of Auditors last year for woefully inadequate organic policy support in pursuit of the nation’s own 15% goal. And in most nations, there is still a major task to deepen policy makers understanding of “the why” of organic –the science behind benefits for their national goals for environment, farm incomes, and economic development—as well as “the how” of the many policies and approaches available to advance organics in farming, policy and markets.

In this article, I want to share some of the concrete tried-and-true policy measures that are already working now in Denmark, other EU member states and around the world. These are policies and financing mechanisms that ministries and organic organizations can take down from the shelf today, and adapt to their context, driving rapid transition to organic food and farming.

I will also end with a proposal for how the organic sector, the EU commission and organic frontrunner nations can team up to accelerate development of organic policies and partnerships and help member states get to 25%.

Policies that work

There is so much gold out there—organic policies and impactful Organic Action Plans motivating farmers to go organic; increasing organic public procurement and consumer support; and developing organic production on farms. We also see good examples of nations sampling best practice from each other. Like last week when Germany announced a gold, silver and bronze labelling system for organic food in restaurants and public kitchens, a model developed with great inspiration from Denmark. Or the now widespread Danish practice of using organic farming to protect drinking water sources, inspired originally by a model in Munich.

The Thünen report shows many EU nations have or will develop Organic Action Plans. This is also true around the world. But what makes Organic Action Plans impactful?

First, create a strong dialogue and involvement with organic stakeholders The best policies come from policy makers’ close dialogue and collaboration with the organic sector itself, about their needs and challenges. In preparing an Organic Plan for Germany this year, more than 1000 participants in 100 groups have been involved over the last eight months. Bravo!

It is also critical that policies target both organic production and farm conversion (push) and market development (pull). This creates stronger momentum, motivating feedback in the supply chain, and minimizes the chances for over- or under-production. I had the pleasure of contributing to the new organic strategy in The Netherlands, launched in December last year, that targets both market development and transition in farming.

PULL: Growing the organic market for organic foods.

Farmers have to eat. The organic farm area won’t grow without a significant pull from the market. But that’s not something we wait around for. It can be created and policy is a major driver.

Most EU member states only have goals for organic farm area. A start is to set ambitious goals for organic market growth, aligned with goals for farm conversion. And to do this with goals and actions targeting all primary channels: retail, food service, short chain sales and exports. There are proven policy tools that can drive growth in all these channels. Among them:

  • The public sector can simply walk the talk and buy organic food. Organic food in public procurement can be accelerated by policy: clear goals, labelling systems, and investments in training of kitchen staff and in supply chain collaboration with wholesalers. Lessons from Denmark’s organic public procurement and how Copenhagen got to 90 percent organic is detailed in a case study
  • Support for organic sector partnerships with retail. Close collaboration with retail supermarkets is essential to expanding product assortments, positioning organics in stores and communicating “the why” of organic to consumers. In Denmark many basic organic products have a 30-50% market share today. Motivating retail was key.
  • Leverage EU promotions funding to drive consumer campaigns and to increase collaboration with organic processors, traders and retail.
  • Support export readiness and collective export promotions
  • Support organic schools for food entrepreneurs, strengthening market knowledge, network creation and product development.
  • Invest in organic sector organizations as catalysts for market growth! Building competencies and capacity in the organic sector organizations to work strategically and operationally with retail and food service actors, develop strong consumer messaging and drive the other above market initiatives.

PUSH: Accelerating transition to organic in farming

Besides a market for their products, organic policies can motivate and support farmers directly in transition to organics. It’s about appealing to their craftsmanship, values, pride and bottom line. This requires a package of policy initiatives creating momentum for organics within the farming community and culture. Some must haves:

  • Paid Organic Transition Checks. Not cash checks but a fresh “check” of the farm, a full day to look at one’s own farm talk about how it could look as an organic farm. The opportunities. The challenges. This is also a day to debunk a few stubborn myths about organic farming. This tool is a highly effective first step into organics.
  • Actual organic checks: Organic subsidy in the transition period of two years, and an ecosystems payment at a lower level thereafter. By far, most added organic compensation is hard-won in the market today. Transition support is a small incentive that farmers can count on –security for farmers that all run on tight margins.
  • Create alignment with other subsidies: Nic Lampkin and Jürn Sanders describe a host of opportunities to integrate organic farmers into other support schemes for nature, climate, and rural development. Some nations unwittingly penalize organic farmers by excluding them from these subsidies.
  • Free organic certification and inspection. Why should farmers pay more to provide ecoservices?
  • Investments in Research and farmer-led innovation Organic Farming is highly knowledge intensive. A farmer must know more, time actions better and be a better manager. The EU will target 30 percent of Ag research funding to organic food and farming. Should EU member states do any less? Specific investments in praxis-near innovation are also a must. The new Danish Innovation Centre for Organic Farming is a good example.
  • Boost knowledge dissemination: from research but also spreading best practice horizontally via peer-to-peer learning and farm visits. Advisory systems should, over time, be self- financing, but building them and training advisors takes resources. Integrate dedicated organic curricula and diplomas into all agricultural schools.
  • Build capacity in organic sector organizations to implement these policies for knowledge dissemination, innovation, and transition advice. It doesn’t happen on its own!

There are many other policy options and examples in the IFOAM Organics International Organic Policy Toolkit. And solid advice for action plans in the Organic Action Plan Manual.


There is also no question that achieving the 25% goal for organics will require gamechangers like lower VAT on organic food, as recommended to member states by the EU Commission. This would help to level the playing field with conventional products with hidden environmental and social costs, just as fees on pesticides and fossile-fuel based fertilizers would make conventional food prices more reflective of actual environmental costs. A more significant shift of farm subsidies from passive farm support to active support for farmers actions for nature and climate would also change farming overnight. EU member nations do not need to wait for the EU on these issues. They can act now.

Making sure policies actually get implemented

Around the world, too much organic policy never gets fully implemented. Some key actions that I have seen boost likelihood of full implementation:

  • Financing, naturally. It’s amazing how many organic plans are not financed. There are a host of possible finance mechanisms, besides the national budget: EU rural development funds can support farm conversion and training, and EU promotions financing covers 80 percent if food companies and retailers pitch in the other 20 percent. Denmark has also financed market development, public procurement efforts, farm innovation and organic farm advice via an agile, multipurpose Fund for Organic Agriculture. It’s a great model. Pesticide fees, and pressure on agricultural levy funds or “check off” programs (financed by farmers themselves) have also generated significant resources for development of the organic sector.
  • Embed organic farming as a tool in broader national policy frameworks for e.g. climate, water quality, public procurement, rural development to leverage resources and supportive actions to upscale organics, or remove barriers for organic transition.
  • Invest in organic sector organizations as catalysts for change. Organic NGOs can drive policy implementation. In Denmark, most of the policies above for market development, advisory services, innovation, consumer dialogue etc are all implemented by organic sector organizations, such as Organic Denmark. These organizations keep things moving, motivate and involve other actors and coordinate. This change agent is missing in most nations because governments have not invested in their organic sector.
  • Create the necessary capacity and mandate in a dedicated organic unit in the ministry for agriculture to coordinate policy implementation, motivate other ministries and follow up on Organic Action Plan initiatives.
  • Activate provincial and local governments in implementing national policies, buying organic food, developing organic supply chains and using organic farming in protection of local nature and drinking water resources.
  • Establish some form of permanent organic stakeholder council, to develop, monitor and follow up on Organic Action plans.

Create an Organic Policy Support Team and organic policy academy

From my own work with ministries in Netherlands, Poland, Ireland, Germany and other nations, I experience ministry officials that want to upscale organics, and use best practice, but need help.

We need to support these officials and create a strong community of practice. The commission has brought ministry focal points or “organic ambassadors” from ministries in the 27 member states together for inspiration and debate. Very positive! In December, for example, I presented the Danish lessons with multiple waves of organic policy and marked development initiatives that have been driving organic growth.

But I think we need more efforts to deepen policy makers interest in organics as a tool for achieving their policy goals for environment, for farmers and for economic development. And initiatives to spread best practice across borders. Both of these goals could be advanced by a policy academy for policy makers and organic sector advocates.

And perhaps by some kind of a mobile Organic Policy Support Team in the EU. A team with hands-on experience that can visit the member states and

  • Share organic policy options, and best practice
  • Assist with needs assessments and policy co-creation with organic stakeholders
  • Provide science-based organic policy briefs that can convince political decision makers higher up to advance organic policies, and
  • Support them in developing concrete organic policy measures, action plans, roadmaps and administrative set-ups that can drive change.

The Organic Policy Support Team could be a commission initiative supporting member states, or the commission can perhaps support IFOAM Organics Europe in this effort. But somehow, let’s get it done!


Find the project OrganicTargets4EU, coordinated by IFOAM organics Europe here: https://www.organictargets.eu/

Find, Policy support for organic farming in the European Union here: Lampkin

Find the Updated Organic Action Plan Manual HERE

The IFOAM – Organics International Global Policy Toolkit on Public Support for Organic Agriculture is here: Toolkit


We are using cookies on our website

Please confirm, if you accept our tracking cookies. You can also decline the tracking, so you can continue to visit our website without any data sent to third party services.