The Organic Retailers Association (ORA), representing retailers in a number of central and eastern European countries, has signed a contract with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), active in 100 countries worldwide, aimed at establishing closer links between organic farmers and retailers.
ORA President, Tom Vaclavik, said his organisation could "provide a viable and reliable marketing partner for organic farmers" as well as improve the integrity and consistency of organic products in the market through a system of organic retail standards.
The need for more marketing to increase organic food consumption was recognised by the European Commission in June this year when it pledged to "boost organic farming by stepping up information for consumers, strengthening the control system and improving research."
Vaclavik, who also owns Greenmarketing, a Czech organic food promotion company, told CEE-foodindustry.com that a stark contrast between organic production and consumption in the Czech Republic could cause farmers problems in the next two or three years.
Greenmarketing figures state that organic food makes up less than 0.1 per cent of total food consumption in the Czech Republic, whereas the number of certified organic farms in the country rose from just 87 in the year 2000 to more than 800 at the start of 2004, covering 5.5 per cent of the country's agricultural land.
Vaclavik highlighted the need for more consumer education. "For many Czechs the prices of organic food are simply too high, with no explanation why that is so. It is easy to see why they do not buy."
A similar problem exists on a larger scale in Poland where the number of certified organic farms rose from 669 in 2001 to 2,304 in 2003. Yet according to a report by the University of Mikolaja Kopernika in Torun "the owners of shops with organic food have problems selling these products, which they blame on the lack of information and advertising".
The higher price of organic food, due to stricter production regulations and costly raw materials, is a problem in most countries and is still likely to deter some consumers even if they are more aware of potential advantages - something which may be more acute in Poland due to its 18.7 per cent unemployment rate, the highest in the EU.
But Vaclavik thinks that, in the Czech Republic at least, more marketing and greater co-ordination between retailers and farmers could increase the organic food market by 20 per cent over the next five years, keeping pace with further growth in organic agriculture.
The agreement between ORA and IFOAM is a step on the road to achieving this by improving quality checks on products whilst promoting environmental and health advantages of organic farming to consumers as well. Vaclavik has also called on the Czech government to support organic marketing measures.