The potential to create a booming organic agriculture sector across Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia is the focus of a study announced today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
UNEP is partnering with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) to examine the economic, employment, poverty reduction and environmental benefits that could be achieved through greater investment in sustainable agriculture in the Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) region.
This latest Green Economy Initiative project, being conducted at the request of environment ministers of the UN Economic Commission for Europe region, will include a sub-regional analysis and national studies in Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova.
National workshops will be organised in the three countries to consult a broad range of stakeholders, and the first forum in Armenia will be held tomorrow (13 April).
The study, funded by the Government of Sweden, will build on the findings of a 2007 report on sustainable consumption by UNEP and the European Environment Agency which concluded that the EECCA region's low use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and its availability of workers presented good prospects for the growth and export of organic food products to Western Europe.
According to the IFOAM, organic agriculture worldwide is developing rapidly with 35 million hectares of agricultural land managed organically by almost 1.4 million producers in over 150 countries, and the European Union is one of the world's largest and fastest growing markets for organics.
Yet the share of organic farmland in Ukraine and Moldova is less than 1%, while sustainable farming is just beginning in Armenia.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: 'Organic agriculture can trigger sharply polarized views, sometimes presented as the anti-dote to modern, intensive agriculture systems or cast as a niche, luxury market for the few and the rich.
'But there is increasing evidence from Africa and elsewhere that organic agriculture can play its part in feeding the world and in meeting various sustainability goals, from water and improved soil quality to delivering higher levels of employment and conservation of biodiversity,' he said.
'Several countries in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia are already producing organic produce and are part of one of the world's growth industries. This new initiative aims to assist in catalyzing more countries to take part and to increase the hectares of organic production in a region keenly looking for sustainable, Green Economy choices,' added Mr Steiner.
The project will also aim to increase awareness of the benefits of organic agriculture and its growth potential in the region and develop more political support for national organic agriculture programmes, the Executive Director of IFOAM, Markus Arbenz, said.
'The UN's Green Economy Initiative is fully aligned with IFOAM's objectives of working with national governments to increase the uptake of the multi-functional benefits of organic production and marketing practices and systems,' Mr Arbenz said.
'In EECCA countries in particular, organic farming has not been widely supported by government policy or certification schemes, yet it presents significant opportunities. We welcome the opportunity to strategically develop the sector in the region and deliver environmental and social benefits to the local people,' Mr Arbenz said.
To ensure national ownership and build capacity in the EECCA region, the research and background data will be prepared by national institutions and experts in conjunction with UNEP and IFOAM.
Each national project in Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova will develop a package of policy reforms, investments and capacity building measures for fostering a transition to a Green Economy dominated by investment in, and consumption of, sustainable goods and services from the agriculture sector.
A final report is due to be issued in late 2010.