Organic farming conference inThebes for producers, consumers

Research on the treatment of tomatoes with aspirin to rid them of the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea Pers. is just one of the presentations at this year’s annual International Conference on Organic Farming in Thebes, which since its inception four years ago has become a major event in Greece’s small but growing organic products sector. This year’s conference – organized by the Union of Professional Organic Farmers of Attica and Viotia, the Polis non-profit association, the organic products certification agency DIO and the Association of Organic Producers at Attica’s Street Markets, with the help of the Ministry for Agricultural Development and Food – begins this evening at the Thebes Municipal Conference Center. «Each year interest has grown, both on the part of participants and the public,» Costas Pazarakiotis, DIO’s head of public relations told Kathimerini English Edition. Apart from talks of interest mainly to farmers, such as legislation on organic produce and suggestions as to how to grow particular crops organically, there are several topics to draw the general public, particularly on Sunday, including retail sales of organic products and the role of consumers in the sector’s growth. «The more organized we are, the more our voice is heard,» Giorgos Kostis, one of the conference speakers and president of the consumer group BIOZO, told Kathimerini English Edition. BIOZO, whose membership has grown to 2,000 since its inception in 2003, takes part in negotiation groups at ministries where legislation on organic products is drafted; it took part in the dialogue on last year’s common ministerial decision on organic products. Obtaining guarantees that the products on sale are really what the producers say they are is one of BIOZO’s main goals. «We are trying to get safeguards and while the market is still small this is easier. However, it is when the mass market becomes involved – chain stores and supermarkets – that it becomes hard for us to keep a check on things,» said Kostis. Ioanna Garavelou is president of the Organic Products Retails Sales Outlets. «Consumers have to learn to recognize the genuine article and so must be well informed. The state has an important role to play here. The Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food should inform the public through the media. We as storeowners are perhaps the only ones who can protect consumers. We ask the producers who supply us to show us their certification documents, not just the stamp on the product itself. Until the ministerial decision last year, there had been irregularities. Some producers who had not been following the rules and who were rejected for certification by one official agency, simply went to one of the other agencies. We ensure that our members are informed which producers are being watched. We have lodged specific complaints with the authorities and are awaiting answers. Consumers can’t do that, of course. However, in general, the majority of organic produce is checked, as the recent ministerial decision last year has made it harder for them to cheat. There are now penalties.» For example, at some street markets people have sold what they call «organic» vegetables alongside conventionally grown ones. When asked for the certification, they cannot produce it but claim «I grew them using only manure» – this is not organic cultivation, pointed out Garavelou. Conferences such as this are an opportunity for consumers to meet with the producers and retailers and make their demands known. Conference program FRIDAY, MAY 26 The conference, which is open to the public, begins at 6 p.m. with a film on organic farming in southern Viotia, followed by presentations on farming systems in Greece, the promotion and quality of organic farming and the Common Agricultural Policy. The conference will be inaugurated by Minister for Agricultural Development and Food Evangelos Bassiakos. SATURDAY, MAY 27 10 a.m. Organic farming in Viotia. 10.15 a.m. The institutional role of AGROCERT, the state certification agency for agricultural products. 10.30 a.m. Legislative framework for organic farming. 11 a.m. Certification agencies’ views of the institutional framework. 11.30 a.m. Proposal to change European Union Regulation 2092/91. 12 p.m. Discussion. 1 p.m. Production principles. 1.15 p.m. Organic farming of potatoes. 1.30 p.m. Importance of green compost. 1.45 p.m. The use of aspirin in treating Botrytis cenerea Pers. in tomatoes. 2.15 p.m. Producers’ experiences. 3 p.m. Discussion. SUNDAY, MAY 28 10 a.m. Presentation of Internet portal. 10.20 a.m. Prospects for organic farming in Greece. 10.30 a.m. Organic viticulture. 10.45 a.m. Street markets. 11 a.m. Retail stores. 11.15 a.m. Role of the consumer. 11.30 a.m. Presentations by organic product manufacturers. 11.45 a.m. Discussion. 1 p.m. Question period. 2 p.m. Salmonella and compost, environment and organic farming, effects of grain on insecticide action of two preparations against Rhiroperha dominico. At the Municipal Conference Center, Thebes. For info, visit DIO’s website or call 22620.81181, 6944.430.279 (mob). Corfu conference Islands as vulnerable ecosystems is the subject of another conference the following week, this time on the island of Corfu and held by the Corfu Environmental Incentive, which has been active for the past two years. Environmental and local government groups are holding a conference on the island ahead of World Environment Day, which falls on June 5. The Old Fort in the main town will be the setting for a talk on Wednesday, May 31, by Michail Dekleris, head of the Environment Chamber and honorary president of the 5th Department of the Council of State. Dekleris will take part in a press conference earlier in the day on the need to protect threatened ecosystems, such as the Korissia Lake ecosystem. For details, contact the Corfu Environmental Incentive, 266103.7761, 6938.712.638 (mob).