Interview: Christopher Stopes, IFOAM EU Group President

ARC2020: The 6th European Organic Congress is taking place this month (16th and 17th April), organised by IFOAM EU Group and Organic Denmark. The title of the event is “Smart change – towards a sustainable CAP”, can you tell us a bit more about what that means?

Christopher Stopes: “Smart change – towards a sustainable CAP” is a core demand of the IFOAM EU Group. Since our first position paper “A sustainable agricultural policy for Europe” in 2002, ten years have passed and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has changed little. The CAP reform of 2003 has brought some changes, few have been positive. Clearly, it has not adequately addressed the urgent challenges of our times: Pressure on natural resources, climate change, biodiversity decline, soil erosion; all of which threaten our ability to feed humankind in the future. In the current CAP reform debate the IFOAM EU Group is making very similar demands as 2002: to raise the level of sustainability for all farmers, to support the delivery of specific public goods, and to further promote and strengthen organic farming as a proven, certifiable food and farming system that addresses a broad range of sustainability issues.

ARC2020: How will IFOAM EU Group evaluate the Congress?

CS: The IFOAM EU Group views the Congress as an opportunity to continue the discussion on how to further expand organic farming and – together with our congress partner, the ARC2020 civil society platform – for a greener and fairer CAP. The success we have had in previous Congresses has come from the ability to bring together high-level policy makers and individuals from across the organic sector from processors, certifiers, farmers and farmers’ groups, organic businesses and those in the public procurement sector. It is this opportunity for the free exchange of ideas across the sector and with a wide range of stakeholders that will and help us to better understand the issues that must be addressed and the work that we need to undertake together to achieve success. Our success will be measured by the extent to which we define an ambitious and inclusive priorities for CAP development to further the future of organic in Europe.

ARC2020: Do you have further CAP-related actions and events planned for 2012?

CS: The IFOAM EU Group will continue to engage in the CAP reform debate for a green, fair and democratic CAP. We will do this important work in cooperation with other civil society organisations such as the ARC2020 platform. Our daily advocacy work will be promoted through highlight activities, such as a seminar in the European Parliament in May on crop rotation and leguminous crops; the ARC2020 event planned for 19 September; a conference on climate change and agriculture in Mediterranean regions to take place in Cyprus on 25 and 26 September; as well as an event to demonstrate examples of agro-ecological innovation in November (in cooperation with ARC2020 and the TP Organics knowledge platform).

ARC2020: What are the key messages/concerns of IFOAM EU Group in terms of the CAP reform process?

CS: We want to replace business as usual with smart change: Fair markets and prices for farmers in the EU and third countries. Public money spent for public goods – this means a basic premium for all farmers that progressively increase the level of sustainability of their farms, and an additional premium for those organic and high nature value farmers that already go significantly beyond these practices. Moreover support should be ensured for specific ecological purposes such as farmers in Natura 2000 areas, and for infrastructural investments that help farmers to produce sustainably and market their products. The CAP has so far not prevented farmers going out of business, nor has it stopped environmental damage – clearly this needs urgently to change.

ARC2020: And finally, why did IFOAM EU Group embark on the ARC? 

CS: CAP is about the effective use of public money to deliver public goods, we are therefore convinced that there must be a broad engagement with civil society; essential for guiding us as to how this money should be spent to achieve the best effect. This is why we are part of the ARC, we see the ARC2020 is a means to engage in a broad dialogue with partners with different perspectives on society. Together we can increase the pressure for a greener and fairer CAP. Citizens will be willing to spend money in the future only for a CAP that delivers society’s needs: long term, ecologically sustainable food security and sovereignty and rural areas enjoying a good quality of life.