Stakeholders at the national level agree on concrete actions to stimulate the availability and use of organic seed in Greece and Bulgaria
On 2 - 4 October, national workshops took place in Bulgaria and Greece in the context of the LIVESEED project. The workshops focused on the regulation and policy framework regarding production use and transparency of organic seed. The LIVESEED partners, including Bionext, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL Germany) and IFOAM EU organised the workshop in Sofia (Bulgaria) and Athens (Greece) , together with national partners Bioselena and Aegilops. Competent authorities involved in seed issues, farmers, researchers, certifiers, breeders and relevant stakeholders from the organic seed sector and value chain discussed how to improve:
• The national organic seed databases,
• The production & use of organic seeds,
• The cooperation between the stakeholders.
At the end of the meeting the participants signed a ‘Declaration on organic seed’. In this document, the participating stakeholders agreed on concrete actions to stimulate the availability and use of organic seed in coordination with national authorities, research institutes and breeders. More detailed information about the national workshops and the declarations will be available in the upcoming national reports by LIVESEED. Keep an eye on www.liveseed.eu and @LIVESEEDeu on social media.
Organic Seed Database: different challenges in different countries
A hot topic during the discussion was the organic seed database. If no or not enough organic seeds are available in a national organic seed database, growers are allowed to apply for a derogation – meaning they are allowed to use untreated conventional seeds for organic production. To have a national database is compulsory according to the current Organic Regulation and will continue to be part of the New Organic Regulation. The new regulation will even extend the database to include new types of organic plant reproductive material. During the workshops in Greece and Bulgaria, it became clear that these countries face very different challenges when it comes to the database. In Bulgaria, only an Excel document is available, which does not allow seed producers to directly place their offers in the database. Due to this format, the information in the database is not up-to-date and farmers might be confronted with a situation where organic seed is available according to the database but already sold out at the time the database is accessed. In Greece the situation is different since there is a functional web-based database. However, it is not used by seed suppliers, for reasons such as the lengthy bureaucratic procedure to register products in the database. This sometimes causes an absurd situation in which derogations are granted even when organic seed is available.
Availability of organic seeds and the necessity of breeding programs
In Bulgaria, there is a general lack of information on the availability of organic seed. The actual benefits of organic seeds are often unclear to farmers, most importantly their better adaptation to low-input conditions that lead to better performance in organic systems. Farmers also highlighted the excellent characteristics of organic varieties relevant for consumers, such as taste. Besides, organic plant reproductive material is often not available on the market because organic seeds and/or varieties are not available or not imported into Bulgaria and Greece. This highlights the importance of national institutes and private companies to invest in organic breeding programmes. There will only be a true incentive for private companies to invest in this business if derogations are handled stricter.
Perspectives to boost the use & availability of organic seed
Farmers often do not order organic plant reproductive material if they can get a derogation easily. This is a missed opportunity since science shows that organic varieties perform very well. Participatory breeding, the practice of involving farmers at different stages in the breeding process, is a successful approach and should be expanded upon according to the Greek Institute of Plant Breeding and Plant Genetic Resources. Participants to the national workshops also concluded that cooperation between organic associations, seed producers and national administrations has to be intensified to make sure that databases are easy to use and to ease the process of meeting supply & demand.
Another recurring issue during the sessions was that farmers often go organic because of the subsidies. While it is unfortunate that the determination to go fully organic (including using organic seeds) is often lacking, this system could stimulate farmers to use organic seeds, which are often more expensive than conventional seeds.
Participants of the national LIVESEED workshop in Greece © Dr. Christina Vakali