BioCultura is an opportunity to see that Spanish farmers and citizens are fighting for a healthy diet and lifestyle, for a decent future for our children and for an eco-system which is free from chemicals and GM.
In 1985 Angeles Parra was an untiring young woman, green actvist, organic pioneer - and founder of the BioCultura organic fair.
Now in her second flush of youth, she has fond memories of those days - and good cause for celebration, with what is now Europe's biggest organic fair opening today in Valencia on the first leg of its tour across four of Spain's major cities.
Some 170,000 people are expected to visit BioCultura and its thousands of exhibitors, and enjoy almost a thousand parallel activities, says Parra. But she keenly recalls how it all started:
"The embryo of the organic movement in Spain was the 'Healthy Lifestyle Association' and its members. At that time, organic farming barely existed in our country. A few families who were concerned about the food we were eating and about damage caused to the environment, got together and that's how it all began."
"The Mediterranean is the organic vegetable garden of Europe. Our products are delicious, healthy and nurtritious. I remember when Enrique Tierno Galván, mayor of Madrid, told us we should hold a fair and let the world know about our organic farming. So we did it - but we had no idea it would get as big as this!"
"BioCultura is not only an opportunity to get to know organic products, but also to see that Spanish farmers and citizens are fighting for a healthy diet and lifestyle, for a decent future for our children and for an eco-system which is free from chemicals and GM - not only for ourselves but for all humankind and other living creatures."
Also BioCultura is organized by the 'Healthy lifestyle Association', an independent NGO which receives no public subsidies. "It is most important that we finance ourselves from our activities as only in this way are we independent from political and business interests", observes Parrra.
Spain's organic sector is booming!
And as BioCultura has grown so has Spain's organic farming sector - at an annual rate of 10-12%, even during the worst moments of the economic crisis.
With almost 2 million hectares certified organic, Spain is now the European Union's biggest organic producer, and a major exporter: more than 80% of its organic produce is exported to markets in Germany, Denmark, the UK, Switzerland and beyond.
"In the beginning we did everything ourselves: we did the accreditation, held courses, created a university Master's degree", says Barra. "Now we still do lots of things but fortunately, the sector has other protagonists. It was the desire for a decent and healthy future for our children that drove us to take action in this agri-food universe."
Today, accreditation committees (mostly from the state sector but also some private ones), certify that food has been produced according to organic standards. Each autonomous region of Spain has its own committee. Andalusia is the main autonomous regional producer and Catalonia the main regional consumer.
Juan Carlo Moreno, technical manager of BioCultura, emphasises that Spain's organic revolution has had virtually no official support, and has taken place against a background of poltical indifference:
"In Spain, unlike other countries around us, the issue of organic food has received no institutional backing: neither significant promotional campaigns nor tax incentives. It is the consumers and farmers who got things going, and it is thanks to them that we are the most important producer in the EU and sixth in the world."
And very much against the public mood, all the official support is going to biotech and the cultivation of GMO crops: "Spain is a country with a lot of genetically modified corn. Biotechnological lobbies are powerful in our country. Let's hope that probable political changes in the near future will have a positive impact on this situation, amongst other reasons, because statistics show a clear and forceful rejection of GM by the population."
The future is green
One of the characteristics of the 'eco' sector in Spain, at every stage, from the field to preparation is the extraordinary efficiency and dynamism of a young, creative, and eco-entrepreneurial class.
All the signs point to a continuous growth in the organic sector, despite the economic crisis and a climate of generalized political corruption. On the one hand the number of accredited hectares will grow and on the other, both the total national consumption and that which is exported will also grow.
This is indicated by market studies along with the fact that the profile of the 'eco' consumer is no longer limited. There is currently no specific profile as the target has changed considerably.
There are ecological consumers, eco activists, home makers, sports people, people concerned about their health, the elderly, couples with new born babies, in fact all types of people. Statistics also notoriously show that the ecological consumer is very loyal.
The Spanish organic sector is set for continued growth. Indeed things are changing faster than ever. School canteens, hospitals, families, professionals, farmers ... are all getting their organic skates on. It is now unstoppable.
This has all happened despite a series of unsympathetic right wing governments. But an even greater expansion could take place if Spanish politics, currently very corrupt and plagued by the interests of large transnational companies, is prepared to change completely.
And Parra is anxious to remind me of the role of Teddy Goldsmith, founder of The Ecologist, in supporting her and BioCultura in its early days. "We became great friends of Teddy's", she says. "We even gave him one of our international prizes. We were really fond of him."
Pedro Burruezo is editor of The Ecologist España y Latinoamérica.
BioCultura 2015 - dates and locations
- Valencia. From February 27th to March 1st. Feria Valencia
- Barcelona. From 7th to 10th of May. Palau Sant Jordi. BCN.
- Bilbao. From 2nd to 4th of October. BEC.
- Madrid. From 12th to 15th of November. IFEMA.