FRANCE – France has made a decision to cut off support to organic farmers by 2018, despite the growth of the organic agriculture – a decision that could weaken the sector, as it did in the UK and Netherlands.

In France, organic agriculture accounts for 7.3% of farmed land and 10.8% of agricultural employment, with significant growth every year.

According to the latest report by Agence Bio, farmers converting to organic farming increased by 9.2% in the first semester of 2017.

Latest figures by the French organic survey also say that consumers are increasingly buying organic products, as they believe that organic agriculture is a solution for environmental problems if further developed.

“Today, there is a strong demand for organic products, much stronger than in the past”, said Jean-Michel Borja, a winemaker in the Drôme.

In 2016, the organic market in France was worth €7 billion, a 7% growth compared to 2015.

“Demand for organic products is not weak – it is not consumption which worries organic farmers, but the technical side of organic agriculture. And it is this aspect that needs support”, explained Rémy Fabre, vice-president of the farmers’ organisation in Ardèche.

The organic sector is still unpredictable, despite the achievements made, according to the sector representatives.

Requirements for withdrawal from phytosanitary products as required by organic agricultural practice are the real challenge, many fear.

“To reduce the use of phytosanitary products by 20 to 10% is feasible for the majority of farmers.

But to go further, they must be supported and trained”, explained Philippe Mauguin, CEO of the national institute for agronomic research (INRA).

French farmers converting to organic agriculture receive support from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which France seeks to stop receiving in support of their sustainable farming practices.

“It is up to the market to support organic agriculture, because demand is high. We have to be able to give a joint response,” said Agriculture Minister Stéphane Travert giving a speech to the Tech&Bio fair in Bourg-lès-Valence.

“If we have to choose, we need to support conversion measures – that’s where the game is played” affirms French MEP Eric Andrieu, socialist (S&D) spokesperson on agriculture.

Florent Guhl, head of the French organic agency explained, “Within the EU, only two countries have seen their organic sector drop – the UK and the Netherlands”

“These are also the two countries that withdrew state support for the sector, thinking it was ripe enough to stand by itself,” warned Florent Guhl.

“For once that growth in a sector is driven by consumers’ demand, we shouldn’t be cutting support!,” he lamented

According to IFOAM, the EU body representing organic agriculture, French withdrawal from the support of organic agriculture is a denial of the environmental benefits organic farming has, and the market does not properly reward.

“It is disappointing that the French government is turning its back to organic farming at a time when more and more consumers and agriculture experts are calling for a transition to agro-ecology”, said Eric Gall, IFOAM EU Policy Manager.

“IFOAM EU calls on French regions to continue to support established organic farmers, who actively contribute to job creation and to the dynamism of rural areas, as well as to the preservation of natural resources”, he said.