The organic sector in France had a remarkable expansion in the last two decades. Between 2001 and 2021, organic land management expanded with 561% (FiBL, 2023). In 2021, the organic and under conversion area was 9.6% of the utilized agricultural area (UAA) of the country. In 2019, France had the second largest European organic market with 11.9 billion EUR revenue and a significant export market generating 826 million euros (Taste France for Business, 2023)The domestic organic food market accounts for 6.6% of the total retail food market. While organic eggs make up an important share of domestic food retails, the products with the strongest growth are processed foods, including frozen foods, beer, dairy products, canned and packaged foods, fruit juice and non-alcoholic beverages. The two main land use types in organic agriculture are arable land (57.3%) and permanent grasslands (34.7%) (EUROSTAT, 2023b). Regions with the greatest area under organic farming in 2019 were: Pays de la Loire, Bourgogne, Nouvelle Aquitaine, Auvergne Rhône Alpes, Occitanie.
KEY DRIVERS AND BARRIERS FOR THE ORGANIC SECTOR DEVELOPMENT
The more recent positive trend in area and market growth in France can be related to pro-active demand side policies, an increased consumer interest and the shift away from the economic modernization discourse in the agriculture sector. It is still to be seen whether these new dynamics are strong enough for sustained growth seeing the persistent barriers stemming from a lack in policy commitment, fragmentation of and conflicts among farming associations or low support for innovation in agricultural research. Moreover, Agroecology as a strong movement in France directly competes with organic. The same applies to relevant food labels of ‘traditional specialities’ or ‘geographical indication’.
Organic farming is established and institutionalised on the policy level. The importance of organic farming on the state level, and aligned with that commitment and reliability of policy support, varies throughout the countries, which can be seen especially in France, where the relations with the state are referred to as reluctant, lacking continuity and commitment. This is expressed in changing subsidy levels as the introduction of maintenance payments in in 2008 and its temporary withdrawal in 2018. For France, limited resources for research hamper innovation in the sector. Organic farming associations on France are a diverse and sometimes conflicting community. The “modernisation of agriculture” discourse shaping conventional agriculture for decades, is recently coming under pressure following protracted crises in agricultural markets with mainstream advocacy arguing or accepting for organic farming being a niche that can be profitable for farmers. France has had a focus on supply-push strategies for many years. Demand-pull strategies are in place, e.g., public procurement strategies, but several barriers are seen in the overall organic market development. These are often due to a lack of coordination, cooperation and communication between organic farmers and/or relevant market players or with consumers resulting in a low level of consumer awareness for organic products. In contrast to Austria and Denmark, where large retailers have great market power and outreach, specialised grocery stores are a very important distribution point for organic foods in France. Organic products in these stores compete with food labels of traditional specialities and/or labels with geographical indications, which hamper the development of the organic food market.
AKIS in France
The French AKIS for organic has made significant progress in supporting the rapid growth of the organic sector in the last decade. The main strengths of the AKIS for organic lies in the interdisciplinary and cross-cutting institutional structure and the well-established bottom-up collaboration of actors, including conventional farmers, but also the notable financial and technical support by the Chamber of Agriculture. Still, there are challenges to overcome in terms of funding allocation among AKIS actors and for the sector in general; foster coordination especially on ministerial level; establishment of structured online spaces for knowledge exchange; enhancing the effectiveness of knowledge sharing and advisory services; and especially reaching higher political levels. Also, there should be more structured coordination efforts for the work of AKIS actors at the regional level.
Policy background of AKIS relevant to the organic sector
The French organic action plan (Ambition Bio Plan 2013-2017) aimed to double the organic land share of the country in five years with a focus set on coordinating interactions between the relevant AKIS actors. Between 2010 and 2020, 12 million EUR have been granted to R&D projects in organic farming under the “Innovation and Partnership” call for proposals of CASDAR (Public funds from the Ministry of Agriculture). The subsequent organic action plan (Ambition Bio Plan 2018-2022) set a target of achieving a 15% of organic land share with a budget of 1.1 billion EUR. This was supported by a reinforcement of funds, the “Avenir Bio” structuring fund managed by Agence Bio, which has been gradually increased from four to eight million EUR per year. While 9.7% organic land share was achieved in 2021, the goal for 2027 is 18% organic share. This shall be supported by the 2019-2025 Strategic Plan and the 2021-2025 “Contract of objectives and performance of the network” of the Chambers of Agriculture, which identified the challenges to support organic farmers. The new CAP SP highlights the importance of cooperation among actors, setting several tasks on already existing sectoral bodies to accelerate the implementation of the tasks omitted from the previous CAP period. Knowledge creation, research and innovation The research culture in France is participatory, demand- and practice-oriented. There is a long-standing history of active NGOs and a civil society with a well-established “bottom-up” dynamic, which is politically supported through diverse programmes and networks. However, the actors setting R&D goals are broadly disconnected from those providing advisory services. While too little is known about research needs in the field, not much knowledge is produced that can support trainers and extension service providers. A nationwide coordination structure with the right mechanisms could improve that (e.g., CSAB (Organic Agriculture Scientific National Committee), the Synergy Programme, Metabio). The public research institute INRAE is considered as an important knowledge hub together with the private research institute ITAB, a transversal technical institute dedicated to knowledge development. Networks such as GIS (Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique), RMT (Réseau Mixte Technologique), UMT (Unité MixteTechnologique) facilitate knowledge exchange between researchers, advisors and applied research programmes such as CASDAR, which requires partnerships between research, development and training.
The work of AKIS actors should also be more structured and coordinated at the regional level. Events such as Tech’n Bio organised by the Chamber of Agriculture, which has a large outreach and influence on producers, provide opportunities for knowledge exchange and further cooperation between organic and non-organic producers. Experts highlight the necessity for more of such events to foster knowledge exchange. The network of organic farmers’ groups (FNAB network with regional GABs) is organising events such as “La Terre est notre métier” for exchange between farmers, advisors, researchers on innovations in organic farming. There are online knowledge-sharing platforms, but these platforms are not connected to each other. Besides the promotion of e-learning, support should be provided to allow the establishment of structured spaces for knowledge exchange, such as Tech’N Bio. Overall, peer-to-peer exchanges between farmers and between advisors should be encouraged, preferably mediated by experts (e.g.: there are well functioning exchange groups, the organic sections of AACC, CETA, etc.).
Education and training
Agricultural training – be it vocational or continuing education – is key for orienting agriculture towards organic at least since 2008. Already in 2021 there were 130 training courses on organic farming (compared to 40 in 2010). The increased number of vocational training prepares young people to choose this pathway after high school. In fact, there are more students in technical agricultural training programmes (BTS studies, age 16-20) than in higher education programmes in agronomy. However, teachers’ knowledge and attitude towards organic farming agricultural high schools remains a bottleneck. In addition, by 2025 the agricultural chambers aim at supporting at least 40,000 established farmers through adult training for organic conversion. Fomabio, a recognized network of public and private agricultural education on organic farming, has only very limited human resources and not always up to date with the challenges of organic producers. Different training schemes on organic agriculture also exist for advisors, such as RESOLIA for advisors of agricultural Chamber.
Advice and consultancy
Broadly speaking, despite regional differences, the advisory services in France mostly meet the specific knowledge needs of small-scale organic farmers. Although the number of advisors for organic farming has increased in France, the lack of staff and insufficient expertise remains an issue for organic advisory services. The lack of funds to cover extension services adds to the rivalry between advisory structures (such as GABs and CDAs) in some regions. Overall, however, the chronic underfinancing disincentivizes actors to devote time and effort to training, knowledge sharing, or facilitation.