The Organic Alternative: Slovenia, the European Union & the Debate Over Sustainable Agriculture

John Feffer | 07.01.2004

Food First Backgrounder, Summer 2004, Vol. 10, No. 3

There is no other way for Slovenian agriculture except sustainable agriculture. – Marta Hrustel Majcen, State Undersecretary of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, Republic of Slovenia

Slovenia might seem like the merest thorn in the side of agribusiness. It is a small, mountainous country on the western edge of the Balkans, half-covered in forest and without much arable land. Only 6 percent of the population of 2 million is involved in agriculture. The average farm is only 5.5 hectares, a far cry from the U.S. average of approximately 176 hectares or even the European Union (EU) average of 18 hectares.

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But Slovenia, which became a member of the EU in May 2004, may have an outsized impact on European agriculture. Last year, Slovenian organic farmers and their counterparts in four neighboring provinces of Austria (Carinthia, Sryria) and Italy (Friuli, Venezia- Giulia, Veneto) declared what they hope will become a showcase for organic farming: the world’s first organic bioregion. Government ministers from the areas involved have endorsed the plan. The members of this new “Aipe-Adria” bioregion have declared themselves free from all genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the initiative’s planners arc pushing organic farming as the future of agriculture. Coordinating marketing programs and attracting more eco-tourists to organic farms are also part of the vision.

As these farmers take aim at industrial agriculture, one significant potential ally is big, bureaucratic, and wealthy: the European Union itself.