Czechs to learn more about organic food

Organic foods have become ever more popular in western countries in recent years, with consumers often willing to pay a little more for increasingly available organic products. Here in the Czech Republic the trend has yet to make much headway, though that could all be about to change: from the start of next year an extensive government campaign is set to inform Czechs about the benefits of organic products and agriculture.

The campaign to promote organic agriculture and products is organized by the State Agricultural Intervention Fund in cooperation with the European Commission. Vilem Frcek of the Agricultural Fund outlines the form of the campaign.

"The programme is for three years and it is called "Propagation of ecological agriculture and its products". The goal of this programme is obvious: propagation of eco-agriculture and bio-foods in the Czech Republic. The programme will contain press advertisement, billboards, leaflets, special web-pages, tasting and many others. The total budget of the programme is approximately 25 million crowns and half of this amount will be financed by European Commission."

Tom Vaclavik
Tom Vaclavik is the founder of the Green Marketing Agency, which, among other things, focuses on helping Czech organic farmers and natural food producers in marketing their products. He definitely agrees that Czechs need to be better informed about the benefits of organic foods.

"I think any information campaign will help since the Czechs still do not really know what organic agriculture and organic food means and what they can expect when they buy it. According to a recent poll four percent of Czechs regularly buy organic food. Nevertheless over 50 percent know what organic agriculture is. So the campaign should explain the reasons why consumers should buy products coming from organic agriculture."

The problem, however, is not just on the consumer's side. Czechs complain there is still a very limited choice of organic products. And, although a number of Czech retailers have introduced bio-foods to their shops, they usually come from abroad. As Mr Vaclavik explains, most organic land in the Czech Republic is still used for pastures and most organic farmers lack basic marketing skills to get their products on the supermarket shelves.

"I think the problem is with the lack of marketing skills of the farmers but also I think there is a role for the Agriculture Ministry to play, particularly in the support of production, mainly on the arable land. And then support of manufacturing on the farm. Most of the farmers are lacking any manufacturing facilities on the farm. Its too expensive and small family farms are not capable of getting any financial means or loans from banks. The difficulty of getting financing is really one of the major problems of having more Czech organic products on the market."

At the end of 2006, the share of organic foods of total food consumption in the Czech Republic was only 0.36 percentage points - not even one percent. The share in Austria, in comparison, is above six percent, while in Germany it is over 3 percent. Mr Vaclavik, however, is optimistic and believes the share of organic products in the Czech Republic is on the rise:

"Since I have been looking at the market for the last five years, the consumption of organic food in Czech Republic has increased enormously. Just in the last year 2006 it was 49 percent. I am expecting that this year the growth will be even higher and could easily reach 100 percent growth of the market."