A 20% increase in production would meet the growing demand in Finland for organic food, and offer new business opportunities to farmers and manufacturers, especially small companies processing and marketing organic raw material, said the government in a report accompanying the launch of the strategic plan.
When it set this target organic production surface area was 9%, and the organic market was worth €215 million.
But three years down the line, production is at just 10.6%.
For the Finnish government to meet its goal by 2020, there would need to be a 18% annual increase for production, according to researcher Jaakko Nuutila, research coordinator and scientist at Finland’s Institute for Natural Resources LUKE.
At the current rate, this is not realistic, he says.
So was the 20% commitment simply too ambitious?
"Not at all," said the director general of the the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Veli-Pekka Talvela. "In some Finnish provinces this goal is already reached, well in advance of the time line."
Other European countries have set similar – if not more ambitious – targets and have managed to reach them. Liechtenstein already produces almost one third of its food organically while Austria sits at around 20%.
Nuutila also believes that the goals are "important and realistic".
"But the government organic development programme was not made in collaboration with the most important target group – the conventional farmers – and therefore it does not motivate to convert."
"In Finland the food chain does not have good enough reasons to go faster towards organic because the food chain actors think conventional Finnish food as equal to organic.”
Nuutila’s thesis suggests a Finnish food chain model, based on official reports, theories and empirical studies, that could meet the 20% aim. The action plan includes tax incentives, more education and research on organic food and its production and a tailored organic consortium to spearhead the project.
Another possible measure is a tax on pesticides like tobacco. “We have a lot of scientific evidence on pesticides and herbicides negative externalities to the nature and human health. Therefore it is reasonable to target environmental taxes to them,” he said.
Nuutila is aware of the unpopularity such a measure could be met with among farmers or the food industry - "They hate it of course" - but pesticide taxes already exist in several EU countries, such as Denmark, Sweden and France.
Denmark introduced an ad valorem tax on pesticides in 1996, doubled it in 1998 and then in 2013 remodelled it as a tax based on the toxicity of the pesticide.
Would the Ministry consider adopting some of Nuutila's proposals?
"Some suggestions are certainly worth considering. Taxes, however, are a very complicated tool. They are largely regulated by the EU and in Finland under the authority of Ministry of Finances.
Instead, it has its own plan to meet its aim. "The whole Finnish government stands firm behind the promotion programme for organic production. [We] can improve preconditions of production, processing and marketing of organic food. But in the end it is the private producers and consumers who decide on the volume and diversity of the organic production. It is essential to create an atmosphere where all the stakeholders want to work towards the same goal. The preparation of the Government programme has led to better cooperation between different actors in the organic sector."
'The momentum for organic is here'
"The momentum for organics is here. Consumers are the driving force and we have to be able to offer what they demand," says Talvela, but it's not just about good business.
"Welfare of domestic animals, minimum use of food additives, avoiding agricultural chemicals and concern for the state of the environment are the main reasons to choose organic food. Organic agriculture is not only food but also taking care of the future of the globe."
Jaakko Nuutila’s full doctoral thesis, The Finnish Organic Food Chain: Modelling towards 2020 goals with change and innovation, can be downloaded here