By Dominique Kohli
Switzerland has a very long history of organic farming. After Rudolf Steiner had developed the organic-dynamic farming and anthroposophy in 1924, Hans and Maria Müller started to promoted organic agriculture among farmers in the country in the 1940s. And the movement was soon sparking into neighbouring countries. In 1974, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) was set up to research and offer advice to farmers and Bio Suisse, the private umbrella organisation that 95 percent of all Swiss organic farms belong to, created the “Bud” label in 1981.
Today, organic farms account for 12.7 percent of Switzerland’s total farmland (1,051,183 ha) and make up 11.4 percent of the country’s total farms (54,056). Organic agriculture is based on production but also engages in processing and trade. More than 2,000 processors and importers are located in Switzerland. In 2014, the Swiss organic market increased by 7.5 percent and organic food sales totalled to 2.2 billion Swiss Franc (EUR 1.8 bn), representing 7.1 percent of the total food sales in the country. Switzerland— as a rather small country—is among the ‘Top 10 Countries with the Largest Markets for Organic Food in 2014’. Actually, Switzerland has the highest per capita consumption of organic products worldwide.
The Swiss organic market is extremely busy. The majority of the organic products in Switzerland are sold through the two strong retailers COOP and MIGROS. Certain organic products and product groups reach very high market shares in value; for example: Eggs-20 percent, Milk-19 percent, Vegetables-15 percent and Dairy Products-11 percent.
“Switzerland is among the ‘Top 10 Countries with the Largest Markets for Organic Food in 2014’. It has the highest per capita consumption of organic products worldwide. The Indian operator, who wishes to export to Switzerland, can choose a certification body or inspection authority, which is recognised by the Swiss competent authority for the inspection of organic production and processing according to the Swiss Organic Farming Ordinance. This list of recognised certification bodies is published regularly and can be found on the website of the Federal Office for Agriculture under ‘Organic Farming’. All imports to Switzerland have to be accompanied by a Certificate of Inspection”
Today, Switzerland exports mainly specific organic specialties like Chocolates, Muesli, Herbs-mixtures and Baby Food. And of course there is big potential for dairy products like Cheese. To facilitate exports, the Swiss Government has entered a number of organic bilateral equivalency arrangements. Apart from the EU, arrangements have been concluded with Canada, Japan and the United States of America.
Though, Switzerland is densely populated, has a beautiful mountainous topography— which has, however, its agricultural limitations— and continental climate—which also has its natural limitations for agricultural production. This leads to a degree of self-sufficiency for food of about “only” 62 percent at present. It is, therefore, not surprising that Switzerland depends also on imports of organic products.
Comprehensive rules for imports from third countries ensure that agricultural products and foods from non-Swiss countries can be marketed as organic in Switzerland if they meet equivalent provisions regarding both production rules and inspection measures. This means apart from the above described organic bilateral equivalency arrangement—currently, products can easily be imported from India, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Israel, New Zealand and Tunisia. For India, this applies for products from the categories, ‘Unprocessed Plant Products’ and ‘Vegetative Propagating Material and Seeds for Cultivation’.
For other products like processed agricultural products, the Indian operator, who wishes to export to Switzerland, can choose a certification body or inspection authority, which is recognised by the Swiss competent authority for the inspection of organic production and processing according to the Swiss Organic Farming Ordinance. This list of recognised certification bodies is published regularly and can be found on the website of the Federal Office for Agriculture under ‘Organic Farming’. All imports to Switzerland have to be accompanied by a Certificate of Inspection.
Switzerland’s good, close and dynamic organic relations with India are reflected not only in about 10 years of successful regulative cooperation on organic production and trade but also in different organic projects in India, which have been supported by the Swiss Government like organic cotton and market development projects. The good cooperation of our two countries could expand even further in future.
The organic market grows rapidly globally and the flow of trade is becoming more and more international. This leads to a situation where those who do not take the organic requirements seriously are tempted to enter the lucrative market. Even if the organic market currently has the best quality management system of the whole food market, there are some concerns that could cloud the future of organic products, including fraud. Switzerland has a vital interest in the trustworthiness of organic. We spare no effort to guarantee the highest integrity of our organic programme. We want to share this commitment with our partners—also with India.
The author is Assistant Director of the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), Switzerland. He is head of the Markets and Added Value Directorate
This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pure & Eco India