Increased organic farming has the potential to stop the environmental degradation of the Baltic Sea, but to to do that countries around the Sea must invest in improved infrastructure and stronger institutional support. Photo: B. Christensen/Azote

Organic farming

Healthier agriculture, healthier sea

Six steps to boost organic farming in countries around a strained Baltic Sea

Story highlights

  • Study in the journal Agricultural and Food Economics describes and compares organic farming in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Polan
  • Several of the countries were shown to lack several institutions and infrastructure for full development of organic farming to happen
  • Lack of institutional and financial support along with a poor market development is holding the development back

How time flies. In 1987, all countries around the Baltic Sea agreed that by 1995, the nutrient load reaching the sea should be reduced by 50 percent. Some 19 years later, this goal is still unachieved. Researchers consistently point out that the environmental degradation of the Baltic Sea cannot be resolved without addressing the agricultural run-offs and that these can be managed efficiently by organic farming.

So what is stopping the countries around the Baltic Sea?

The answer is, according to a new study by centre researcher Thomas Hahn and colleagues, that several countries lack several institutions and infrastructure for full development of organic farming to happen. The study, published in Agricultural and Food Economics, argues that a lack of institutional and financial support along with a poor market development is holding the development back.

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Look to Sweden
In the study, Hahn and his colleagues describe and compare the organic farming sector in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland to identify the measures necessary to increase its significance. Sweden was used as a baseline for a successful introduction of organic farming because the country has a relatively well-functioning supporting institutions in place and is comparable in terms of climate and other production conditions.

Central to the study were three questions: what organic farming institutions already exist in Sweden and the four comparative countries? How do these correspond or differ between each country? What institutions need to be developed to support the organic sector in the Central and Eastern European Countries?

Using a mail-out questionnaire, ten senior officials and researchers from Poland and the three Baltic countries helped evaluate the legislative support, financial support, market, production, social dynamics and infrastructure necessary for organic farming to develop.

"Ultimately, the development of organic farming depends on the willingness of individual conventional farmers to convert to organic farming practices. But this willingness largely depends on the institutional system in which the farm is embedded"

Thomas Hahn, co-author

Six steps towards change
Their findings support previous studies which states that the institutional development of organic farming proceeds along six formal and informal steps: establishment of an organic farming community, establishment of political recognition, financial support, establishment of non-competitive relationships between the organic sector and general agricultural institutions, creating an organic food market and finally, developing an arena for discussion and coordination.

When applied to Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there is still a long way to go before the organic sector in these countries is fully developed. Lithuania has come furthest while Estonia is lagging behind. Latvia and Poland are half-way through the steps.

"There are some general recommendations to be drawn from the results," says lead author Markus Larsson.

"Above all, the countries must ensure there is sufficient institutional and financial support for the organic sector to develop further. Furthermore, to maintain the growth of the sector, there is a need for a mature and independent market. In other words, support should be directed towards a market-oriented approach."

The study also points out the importance of improving infrastructures. Better road networks and availability of water and electricity services would benefit organic as well as conventional production.

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Published: 2014-01-09



Larsson, M., Morin, L., Hahn, T., Sandahl, J. 2013. Institutional barriers to organic farming in Central and Eastern European countries of the Baltic Sea region. Agricultural and Food Economics 2013, 1:5, doi:10.1186/2193-7532-1-5

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Dr. Thomas Hahn is Assistant Professor and theme leader of the Stewardship research theme. His background is in agricultural, environmental, ecological, and institutional economics with long experience in teaching these subjects.