Helping the switchover – central to making organic products more widely available
Consumers want more organic products – preferably of French origin. To increase its volumes and meet demand, Carrefour is working with French producers on a programme designed to help them switch over to organic farming methods.
To make organic products more widely available and increase local offerings – both of which are key aspects of its plan to promote better eating and are increasingly sought by consumers – Carrefour needs organic farming to gain ground in France.
Admittedly, the shift towards organic produce is already clearly under way (the amount of farmland certified as organic looks set to increase more rapidly over the next few years – around 23% in 2018 and then 13% in 2019), but we need to speed things up. Carrefour's aim is aligned with the public authorities' objectives: France's "Ambition Bio 2022" programme wants 15% of the country's farmland to be devoted to growing organic produce by 2022.
The problem is that switching from conventional farming methods to organic farming methods – i.e., methods which do not use synthetic chemical products or GMOs – involves a complete change in production or livestock rearing methods, enshrined by a set of strict specifications defined by European legislation on organic farming methods. The process is extremely specific and it can take a very long time (up to three years) for all the impurities to be drained out of the ground. For producers, this transition period is delicate from a financial point of view – even if they end up being better off in the long term.
Three years – that's how long it takes to switch a cattle farm over to organic methods
And although there are a number of financial aid schemes provided by the public authorities and the European Union within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy, it can take a very long time to obtain them. So that farmers are able to provide high-quality produce as quickly as possible that can meet consumer demand, Carrefour has decided to significantly bolster its programmes for helping them to switch over to organic methods.
Aim: 500 conversions
Carrefour has already helped around fifty French farmers switch over to organic farming methods since last year. The aim now is to help 500 farmers make the switch, "as quickly as possible", says Benoît Soury, the Carrefour Group's Organic Market director. Priority will be given to producers from France's leading organic farming regions – Occitanie and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
The support programme guarantees a purchase volume and the method used to set prices for three to five years, which covers the whole switchover period and beyond. "The key feature of these contracts is how balanced they are: we want to enter into long-term partnerships which don't trap farmers into exclusive contracts, but instead contracts which are focused on the product and the consumer", says Benoît Soury.
Carrefour's plan to speed up the switch from traditional to organic farming methods involves all the main parties operating in the organic sector: France's Chambers of agriculture, the Fédération nationale d’agriculture biologique (the national organic farming federation), Agence BIO (the French agency for the development and promotion of organic farming) and the Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles (national federation of organic farmers' unions). Carrefour wants to forge strong partnerships, as it already has done with WWF France.
"Unlike intensive monoculture, which has had catastrophic effects on the environment, agro-ecology is an effective alternative that safeguards the planet's biodiversity,says Arnaud Gauffier, head of WWF France's Food & Agriculture division. We believe in the planet's resilience, which ensures that nature is able to withstand shocks, such as uncertainties to do with the weather and insect attacks. Every day, we demonstrate that biodiversity is the farmer’s friend. And it's profitable for farming professionals!”
To support and encourage fruit and vegetable production by farms starting in the second year of their switch over to organic farming methods, Carrefour and WWF have decided that henceforth, these products will be identified by a special WWF labelling system that will be visible in stores by the end of 2018.
Organic products (create a link to the French organic article inset) are not just good for everybody's health – consumers and farmers – and for the planet. They also represent a fast-growing economic sector. "Organic farming is creating more and more jobs in France and is currently a major growth driver", emphasises Florent Guhl, director of France's Agence BIO.
He goes on to say:"One of the priority challenges for the future and for the government's "Ambition Bio 2022" programme will be to provide training about the specific features of organic produce for everyone involved in the sector – for farmers and for professionals working in food-related professions, catering and retail. This is a significant factor in the project's success, together with the availability of agricultural land: farmers need easy access to the best organic farmland".
More organic means more jobs – organic farming is a sector that is hiring