As consumer health concerns continue to grow and a increasing number of people are opposed to chemical inputs in intensive agriculture, organic farmers all over the world are cashing in. Within Spain, however, high prices, lack of marketing and adequate distribution channels, and extremely low consumer awareness have all been constraints on national consumption.
Interestingly enough, however, Spanish organic farming has shown a slow but steady growth in the course of its development. Despite CAP support measures for the producer sector being introduced later than in the rest of Europe (in some regions as late as 1997), the number of organic farms increased more than twelve-fold from 1994 to 1999, according to the Spanish Society for Organic Agriculture (SEAE). What this demonstrates is that the poor representation of the organic foods sector within Spain has done nothing to keep farmers from being immensely successful outside of the country. With exports making up more than 80% of the organic food produced each year, farmers are finding it easier to market through experienced exporters rather than battle the less than 1% national organic consumption rate.
A breakdown by autonomous communities shows that Extremadura and Andalucia are the two regions with the largest areas planted for organic farming purposes. Both have the advantage of having one of the more suitable climates in Europe for organic farming. Andalucia, inparticular, boasts an impressive range of organic producers, including the world´s first manufacturer of organic ready-made meals (Carta Maestra), one of Spain´s first organic wine producers (Bodegas Robles), and an organic olive oil family business (Nuñez de Prado) which has been in operation for seven generations and now exports 90% of its bottles to the United States, Canada, Japan, and other European countries.
Export success has been at least in part due to the high level of confidence in the quality of Spanish organic products. While government organizations see to it that Spanish farmers follow all national and European rules, various non-profit organizations have also contributed to the process by establishing their own production and manufacturing standards. Seals of approval can be found on those organic products which meet these high standards, making the distinction between authentic products and their commonly seen knock-offs quite easy. Any products labelled as organic must comply with EU regulations on organic products and must carry, apart from their brand name label, another numbered label with the logo identifying the name of the regulatory body for that region. Therefore, the consumer need look no further than the label to be assured that they are consuming a quality organic product.
While the future of the sector nationally remains to be seen, favorable climate conditions and strict quality standards have allowed Spain to make their mark as a key player in the international organic foods market.