A new report by internationally renowned ecological thinker Gunnar Rundgren helps answer a very timely question – ‘is organic more local than local?’ Johan Cejie has been looking at the findings.

Surveys keep on finding consumers looking for organic products that are locally produced. If such products are not available, or not affordable to the consumer, the choice turns into one between organic or local. 

In this situation, our understanding of ‘local’ becomes critical. This week, Swedish non-profit Ekomatcentrum will be presenting an interesting and timely report that takes a closer look at whether Swedish organic products are more, or less, dependent on imported agriculture inputs – feedstuffs, fertiliser, pesticides and so on – than conventional. The conclusion is that Swedish organic agriculture is on average less dependent on imported inputs.

One of the basic ideas behind organic agriculture is to produce good food, using local resources. As inputs into the conventional agricultural system typically are not local (at least in the Nordics), the costs for these inputs actually convert into revenue for another company in some other country. As a result, the function of the local farmer becomes partly to forward money to this overseas company. As a big driver for many consumers to buy local is to support their local farmers, it may be a bit challenging that a hefty chunk of the money paid for the final food product goes to a business that is the very opposite a local company; a global large scale corporation in some other country. Adding to that, is the fact that purchased inputs will leave an ecological foot print elsewhere.

To compare to what extent organic and conventional products are dependent on either local or remote resources, this report breaks down the cost of a final product to reveal the promotion of the farm’s revenue that is spent on imported inputs. In other words: how much of a krona that the consumer spends believing that the product is ’local’ actually goes back to an ‘invisible’ overseas inputs producer. The report also investigates whether the stricter standards of Sweden’s organic label KRAV leads to a difference in terms of self sufficiency at farm level.

The report finds that the differences vary between type of production and between crops, but in general organic is found to be considerably more self sufficient, or local, than conventional production. In the case of oats, for example, 40-46% of the revenue in conventional crop production is passed on to buy imported inputs. Organic production passes on 8-10% to imports. For dairy farms the difference is nearly insignificant, as conventional production in Sweden, by law, is heavily dependent on grazing and silage for feed.

The report contains lots of fascinating data and correlations as well as an extensive methodology and sources section. It compares potatoes, wheat, oats, tomatoes and milk in the conditions that prevail in Sweden. 

Having established that local organic is more local than local, the author (Gunnar Rundgren) goes on to discuss the dynamics of a large scale conversion that would result from local shopping ambitions turning organic:

  • More land used for grazing leading to more biodiversity in the landscape
  • More people would be employed in Swedish Farming and the profitability of farming would increase.
  • Pricing would shift in the market, as costs for producing various goods are different between organic and conventional. Ham and poultry would become more expensive while beef, mutton and pulses would be cheaper.
  • There is a small but important flow of nutrients from conventional to organic farms in the current organic system. This would need to be replaced to avoid considerable loss in productivity.

The report is available from Moreganic Sourcing’s web shop, currently in Swedish only. 

Main image: Courtesy/copyright KRAV