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Soldi R., Cavallini S. (2018) “Mid-term evaluation of the first priority domain of the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming”

Committente: The European Committee of the Regions
Periodo: 2018
URL: Mid-term evaluation of the first priority domain of the European Action Plan for Organic Food and Farming

The new ‘Action Plan for the future of Organic Production in the European Union’ was published by the European Commission in March 2014. Its preparation was part of the updating process of the regulatory and policy framework for organic farming called for by the Council in May 2013. The Action Plan addresses some of the non-regulatory aspects of the policy and has the overall objective to support the growth of the sector while facilitating its transition to a new legal framework. Contrary to well-acknowledged good practices for the development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of organic action plans, the Action Plan released in 2014 does not include targets and timeframes, does not have a dedicated budget, and does not foresee from the outset the undertaking of an evaluation, hence missing the definition of performance and impact indicators. This study is the mid-term evaluation of the first of the three priority domains addressed by the Action Plan. It is commissioned by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on the basis of the evident shortcomings of the Action Plan which were outlined since its publishing. In an opinion adopted in December 2014, the CoR added to these shortcomings the lack of a local and regional dimension which overlooks the role local and regional authorities (LRAs) have in promoting and supporting the development of organic farming and production. The first priority domain of the Action Plan aims at increasing the competiveness of European Union organic producers. This is tackled by means of three main strands of EU competency which group nine actions. These actions are reviewed in this study in terms of state of implementation, results and broader impact. The evaluation methodology is based on a combination of approaches, including desk research, selection and analysis of measurable indicators, and consultation with stakeholders. In particular, the consultation was carried out by means of an online questionnaire which was participated by a total of 107 respondents, 68 of whom replied on behalf of their organisations and 39 on an individual basis. These respondents turned out to represent a balanced sample in terms of country of origin, geographical scope of their activity and type of stakeholders. They also reflect a varied and good level of involvement in and/or knowledge of the EU organic sector, hence legitimising the qualitative findings of the survey in terms of perceptions, opinions and experience. Table 1 shows the state of implementation of the nine actions under review. Overall, progress is apparently good. Still, it needs to be noted that several of the implemented actions are one-off (e.g. the publication of the guide), administrative (e.g. inclusion of organic farming as a specific theme in a call), or ‘business as usual’ activities (e.g. raising awareness on information and promotion opportunities at meetings and events). The most evident delay is in the revision process of the Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria for Food and Catering Services, which were due in 2015, and the publishing of specific information material exemplifying the use of organic farming requirements in public procurement. 

The assessment of results points to the following: • The EC guide published in 2014 has not accomplished the expected effect on target stakeholders. According to the results of the consultation, both its effectiveness and dissemination are considered poor. Furthermore, the majority of the respondents representing entities grouping organic producers, retailers or processors are not familiar with it. • The inclusion of organic farming as a specific theme in the 2014 call based on Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 worked out to be an incentive for stakeholders to consider organic-related information activities in their project proposals. • The support to the organic quality scheme provided under Regulation (EU) No 1144/2014 has been regularly increased since 2014. It is therefore assumed that EC-led awareness activities had a positive effect on target stakeholders. • The role of LRAs in boosting public procurement of organically produced food and catering is considered essential according to the results of the consultation. However, LRAs face a series of constraints and none of these is specifically addressed by the Action Plan. • The effect of the first priority of the Action Plan on consumers is considered poor. The consultation reveals that there is a general perception that consumers are not given enough information (in quantity and, more importantly, in quality) on the EU organic logo and scheme. This is confirmed by the stagnating level of recognition of the EU logo across the EU, as regularly recorded by the EC. • LRAs have indeed a role in the implementation of the first strand of the priority, for example in terms of awareness raising and information activities. Still, they appear to be importantly unaware of the opportunities provided for at the EU level or of EC activities. • The organisation of the May 2015 Conference is not, in general, perceived as successful according to the results of the consultation. The most striking indicator is the lack of awareness about the event and its outcomes by the majority (82%) of the respondents. The Commission has made the planned use of the formats and instruments available under H2020 to provide for co-funding opportunities for organicrelated research. • The uptake and dissemination of research results are totally overlooked under this strand. • The structural difficulty of LRAs in taking advantage of H2020 opportunities is confirmed. • The ‘facts and figures’ reports published by the EC every three years are not deemed satisfactory for monitoring purposes by the majority of the respondents to the consultation. • The studies undertaken or to be undertaken in order to deepen the analysis of specific aspects are not deemed sufficient by the majority of the respondents to the consultation to adequately support present policy developments. Overall, the evaluation concludes that the effectiveness of the actions under the first priority domain is importantly hampered by an insufficiently conducive policy environment for organic farming at the EU level; a limited monitoring capacity of the organic sector; a limited ownership of the Action Plan by relevant stakeholders, including LRAs; an insufficient communication of the Action Plan, including to LRAs; and a lack of coordination of the Action Plan with national and regional actions. Among specific areas of interventions, the EU effort on awareness and information is perceived to be insufficient; the delay in finalising the GPP criteria for food and catering services seems a missed opportunity to boost a demand-pull process for organic food; and the lack of actions on dissemination and uptake of research results represents a missed opportunity to provide supply-push support. 

28 febbraio 2018.