Prof. Dr. Otmar Seiber: “Consumers Bear Responsibility”

Prof. Dr. Otmar Seiber advocates the revaluation of regional products in order to stop the creeping loss of agricultural land. The representative of the research group Agricultural and Regional Development Triesdorf GbR (ART) believes consumers also have a duty to fulfil in this.

What challenges is (organic) agriculture currently facing?

First and foremost, there is a lack of demand! Many farms would like to switch from conventional to organic farming, especially dairy farmers, but they cannot find buyers because consumers buy less than expected. As a result, prices for organic products are not developing as farmers would like. However, organic imports and the pricing policy of discounters also play a role. In order to achieve the conversion target for organic farming set by politicians and based on acreage – 30 percent in Bavaria and 20 percent nationwide by 2030 – demand would have to increase dramatically and farmers would have to be given convincing and reliable support signals. At the moment, only 10 percent of Bavaria’s land is farmed organically.

Does organic farming require more high-quality land?

As long as conventional farms switch to organic farming, no additional land is needed, because it is only a conversion process. Since we are still producing surpluses for some products such as milk, for example, and since such a transformation will not occur abruptly, the provision of the population would not be jeopardized, even if the productivity per unit area in organic farming is consistently lower than in conventional farming. Nor should we underestimate the changes in nutritional behaviour, especially among the young population. Up to now, conversion has tended to be less frequent on arable land with the highest yield levels than in medium-sized locations and regions with a high proportion of grassland. This is because the differences between conventional and organic farming methods are smaller here.

What is the most important concern of your work for you personally?

Our institute is currently working in a team with four partners on a research project by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The aim is to slow down the creeping loss of agricultural land by increasing the valorisation of regional products. The focus is on the change in land use in the Nuremberg Metropolitan Region, which is strongly defined by regionally typical foods and specialities. In this region, agriculture has so far lost around 5,000 hectares annually, about a quarter of which are used for construction measures, the rest for ecological compensation, near-natural land use and reforestation. This means that the possibility of producing regional products, which are important for local employment, value creation and the image of the region, is dwindling. By demonstrating the employment and value creation effects of regional products, we want to provide arguments for slowing down the loss of land. An important instrument for this is the establishment or completion of product-specific value chains – from agricultural products, through their processing and trade, to the regional consumer. This makes it clear to consumers that they also assume responsibility for the land in their region through their regional demand. And at the same time, agriculture also takes on a completely different role in society.

What influence can consumers exert?

We cannot force anyone to provide themselves with organic food. But we must make it clear to consumers that what they eat has a direct connection to the land around their homes and that it makes sense to buy regional and organic products. If they prefer to help themselves on the world market and rely exclusively on the cheapest possible food, they cannot protect local land. However, they should bear in mind that agricultural land is not only used for agricultural production, but also offers a whole range of other public services – for example, for sport and recreation, as a site for biodiversity, air exchange and much more. With their consumption, everyone can therefore consciously do something for their region. To facilitate this, however, regional marketing should be expanded systematically, including through the use of logistical innovations. Last but not least, local authorities should take more care that when allocating land, they do not take exactly those that are important for the cultivation of regional products.