THE FUTURE OF ORGANIC FARMING
“Vote on how the world will look in the future every second”
Nutrition and agriculture are the two major issues today and tomorrow. The future of our world will depend on how they develop. In the following interview, the organic pioneer Werner Lampert explains his vision of large-scale, sustainable agriculture that works in harmony with consumers and involves mutual respect. He discusses the importance of talking to children and young people about responsibility and attitude and about using modern media’s enormous, subversive power to mobilize.
Way back organic products were reserved for a relatively small class of consumers. This has changed dramatically over the past decade. Thanks to product lines like Zurück zum Ursprung, organic products are now available to and popular with the general public as well. Is it possible to produce organic food for everyone?
If you had asked me that question in 1994, I would have said that the Austrian population would be eating around 50 to 60% organic in the next twenty years. Unfortunately we are very far from that right now.
When food comes under pressure in terms of pricing, products that have had all the nature processed out of them always move out in front. After all, denatured foods can be produced much more effectively for a short time than organic products. However, when you understand that food is connected to well being, to people’s health, there is no alternative to organic food.
Today my theory has changed. I think Europe will encounter the biggest food shortages in 20 years at the latest. If agriculture continues to be run the way it is now, we will be running full-speed into these hard times.
The coming years will be the last chance to make an agricultural change. And there is no alternative to organic, regional farming.
But before that, we need to solve a different problem: That organic agriculture in itself is not sustainable. So we not only need a shift to organic agriculture, but also smart and sustainable farming.
What do you say to the argument that only small-scale agriculture, small farmers, and not the “big” industrialized organic farmers represent the “true” organic principle?
This argument is fed by ignorance and is based on envy. It is a sociological issue, not a quality issue. I have a friend who owns a few hundred hectares and has been farming organically since 1982. I don’t know anyone who is more careful with livestock and soil than he is.
When I think about organic agriculture that will lead us into the future, there is no alternative to the kind of large-scale organic farming that he is doing. And I know some small organic farmers that handle their livestock horribly and can’t manage their farm. Small-scale agriculture alone does not, of course, guarantee quality. It is actually more likely to be used for propaganda purposes. This just stirs up resentment and is not based on the truth.
On the other hand, I am convinced that Alpine farming in Austria will be our most valuable capital in the future, especially when we consider climate change. And the majority of Alpine farms are small by nature.
Do you believe that local is the new organic?
Local production should not be seen as an act of patriotism. I think that is nonsense. Products are produced in developing countries and Europe is needed as a buyer. Fruit is grown in Southern Europe that doesn’t exist in our region and that we need in the winter. We shouldn’t cut ourselves off or build walls. But of course there are generally no alternatives to regional farming, a regional food supply. Because industrial agriculture will not be able to feed us in the future...
What will happen?
If we have been reasonable and smart, we’ll have vibrant, regional agriculture that supplies us well. The shelves will stay full, and we will have everything we need to be happy. And the good thing about it is that the consumer will know where his food comes from. He will know the farmers that produced the foods. There won’t be an anonymous food industry behind everything, but real people who produced food for him.
You said that the population is still a long way from getting 50% of its food from organic farms. But don’t you have the feeling that we are in the middle of a radical change right now, heading towards a more responsible lifestyle?
The zeitgeist is all about constantly moving on to the next issue. Of course this could also be an opportunity for the shift in consciousness you mentioned...but also a risk. It remains to be seen whether we will see positive changes. I certainly hope so.
I think the way we live our lives – i.e. climate change, population boom – will force us to make a change in the end. It won’t be the zeitgeist that makes us rethink everything; that will move on to another issue in five years.
It would be fantastic if we managed to change our attitude intellectually. We could incorporate other important elements that don’t necessarily have to do with agriculture and food. Farming actually comes from the heart of a culture. This change would be a great opportunity to make our lives more joyful, more pleasurable.
Trust is the foundation of food. Is transparency the key to trust – showing who is behind the product?
Absolutely. Trust is built when you know that there is someone who worked to make every product. No one trusts an anonymous system. That is why transparency is essential. Transparency brings us together. When I know someone who does something for me, it creates emotional intimacy. And intimacy means consideration...
Interview: Helmut Wolf