As a European exchange platform for producer cooperatives and other representatives of the fruit and vegetable sector, ICOP has become an indispensable date in the annual calendar over the years. We spoke to the organizing team of gfa -consulting gmbh, based in Weiz, Styria, about the supporting program for the 17th edition in Almería and the challenges facing European producer organizations today.
The first day of the event at last year's ICOP in Weiz was largely focused on the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) facing farmers within the EU today. "Especially at the national level, there are still many unanswered questions for producer organizations. This is also partly due to the fact that in the current CAP, many important regulatory needs have been shifted to the regulatory competence of the member states," describes Wolfgang Braunstein, managing director of gfa - consulting gmbh and the driving force behind the ICOP.
The team of gfa - consulting gmbh with Wolfgang Braunstein (right) during last year's ICOP in their hometown of Weiz.
Climate change and coping with weather extremes also create a need for exchange and discussion at the producer level. Braunstein says, "Both weather extremes with their consequences, such as crop and yield losses, cost increases due to increased 'protection investments' and insurance, and general cost increases make increased efforts in adaptation through research and development projects and production adjustments necessary. The resources required for this can be managed more easily in cooperation than on a stand-alone basis. Only through proactive action over the long term can usable results be achieved. In this regard, there is also a need for cooperation across producer organizations."
International exchange platform for the fruit sector
The ICOP came into being at the beginning of the 2000s during the so-called eastward expansion of the European Union. From the very beginning, the primary goal of the conference was to network producers and their producer organizations from the "old" and "young" member regions, Braunstein says in retrospect. "It became apparent at the time that there was no platform at the international level for producer organizations in the fruit and vegetable sector. Even during the early years, a core clientele developed. After a few years in Austria, the next step in development was to go to other European cities and invite representatives* from the European Commission."
This year's venue in Almería in southern Spain offers concentrated expertise from practice and research. In addition, both for fruit and vegetables, the presentation of current research activities regarding the current challenges form an interesting focus, Braunstein continues. "And, of course, there will again be an exchange with the European Commission and representatives of funding agencies from various countries. With the help of our local partner COEXPHAL, we have succeeded in gaining access to competent speakers from the region."
He added that the increased integration of representatives from Italy and Spain is one of the cornerstones of the organizing team's strategy for the future. "Another focus is the exchange between European producers of fruit and vegetables and the food trade, which is always necessary. Through the intensive discourse with the funding agencies and the European Commission, a contribution should be made to the practice of fairer funding processing. A challenge for us as organizers is the generation of long-term sponsoring partners, which is necessary to maintain the quality of the event," concludes Braunstein.