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Organic Agriculture in Portugal

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Portugal is located in South-West Europe and has a coastline of around 800 km, occupying one fifth of the Iberian Peninsula that it shares with Spain. The country has a total area of 92,080 square kilometres; the territory also takes in the two archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores, located in the Atlantic Ocean. Continental Portugal is split in two by its main river, the Tejo. To the North the landscape is mountainous combined with plateaux in the interior that are divided into four areas, leading to distinct agricultural development. The South between the Tejo and the Algarve (the Alentejo) features mostly rolling plains.

The climate is the result of three influences: the Atlantic, the continental and the Mediterranean. It is cool and rainy in the North, warmer and drier in the South. But the rainfall distribution pattern is Mediterranean all over the country, which means a long dry period in the summer, making irrigation essential to grow most crops during that season. The area of organic farming in Portugal has increased by 194 333 ha from 1997 to 2004. Olive trees, pastures, cereals and vineyards account for the majority of organic crops. The main production areas are The Alentejo (in the South-East), Beira Interior (Central-East) and Tras-os-Montes (North-East). These regions are located in the interior, taking advantage of the fact that these are less developed and less polluted areas compared with the regions along the coast.


The country's basic socio-economic data:


Major languages: Portuguese
Major religion: Catholic
Life expectancy: 74.25 years (men), 81.03 years (women)
Monetary unit: Euro
Main exports: Clothing and footwear, machinery, chemicals, cork and paper products.
GNI per capita: US $14 350 (source: World Bank, 2005)


The economy is based on traditional industries such as textiles, clothing, footwear, cork and wood products, beverages (wine), porcelain and earthenware, glass and glassware. The services sector, such as tourism, particularly in certain areas like the Algarve in the South, is playing an increasingly important role.


Traditionally, Portuguese consumers eat three full meals a day, with dinner as the main meal. Consumers consider potatoes, bread and rice as their staples, and eat large quantities of fish, seafood and pork. The Portuguese value eating meals together whenever they can but, as in many other countries, traditional eating habits are being modified as cultural and social changes surface. As Portuguese families are becoming less traditional, with longer working hours and less free time available for meal preparation, packaged goods are gaining considerable popularity. In 2004, the value of the Portuguese packaged food market increased by over 2 %, which put it above the average value of other West European countries' packaged food market. This growth is largely attributed to positive sales in snack bars, chilled processed foods and ice-cream, with increases of 56%, 12% and 7% respectively in 2004 (Euromonitor).


The Portuguese are growing more conscious of health and the environment, which explains their rising interest in organics, especially natural fruit and fibre foods. Increasing purchasing power also encourages this development. But some factors like, generally speaking, the lack of consumer awareness of the characteristics of organic products, the higher prices of these products, and the often poor appearance of organic products compared with their non-organic equivalents, have been the key constraints regarding demand.


Although the national organic market is not sufficiently organised, it has improved in recent years to satisfy internal demand and to provide market opportunities for all organic producers. For this reason a significant percentage of certified organic production from Portugal is still sold in the conventional market, and at the same time most of the organic, processed products consumed in the country are imported. A study carried out by Organic Monitor Ltd on the European market for organic fruit and vegetables finds that there is relatively low consumer demand in Portugal, with most of the production sold as organic going to export markets.


Evolution of Organic Production and Processing


The major part of Portuguese organic production consists of those crops traditionally grown in extensive systems, and thus easier to convert to organic farming. In Madeira Island, situated in the Atlantic Ocean, South West of Portugal, the first conversion areas started in 1995. The advantage is that the island is a natural, protected area where the use of pesticides is prohibited, but only 0.2 % of the total area farmed is certified as organic. The main products are lemons, bananas, papayas, milk, eggs and poultry.

Picture Source: Compiled by the author based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture - IDRHa


According to a study by the Ministry of Agriculture in Portugal, the area of organic farming increased from 1998 to 1999 due to the decline in conventional farming by about 180,000 hectares and a parallel expansion in organic farming by about 18,000 hectares. This increase was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, which has been offering "agro-environmental" subsidies since 1995 to encourage adoption of organic production methods. These subsidies, offered for a period of 5 years to growers of a number of organic crops, have been largely responsible for the expansion in land area devoted to organic production.

Organic farming areas in Portugal (1997 – 2004)






































Arable crops























































12 193

29 533

47 974

85 912

70 857

91 006

120 729

206 526


Source: Compiled by the author based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture - IDRHa

At the end of 2004, there were 206 526 ha registered as organic, representing 5.3 % of the total cultivated area, and the number of operators (farmers, processors and importers) reached 1302. Compared with the early stage of development of organic farming in Portugal in 1998, the figures for 2004 represent a growth rate of 14.3 %.


Countries 1998 2004 Annual growth rate 1998-2004 (%)
Austria 280,966 344,916 3.48
Belgium 11,744 23,728 12.44
Denmark 93,201 154,921 8.84
Finland 116,206 162,024 5.7
France 218,775 534,037 16.04
Germany 93,201 767,891 42.12
Luxemburg 744 3,002 26.17
Ireland 24,411 30,670 3.9
Italy 577,475 954,361 8.73
Netherlands 22,268 48,152 13.72
Portugal 29,533 206,524 14.3
Greece 15,402 249,488 38.29
Spain 269,465 733,182 18.15
Sweden 127,329 206,579 8.4
UK 78,833 690,269 43.57

Source: Compiled by the author based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture – IDRHa, Statistics in Focus 2005 and FiBl .

Alentejo, in Southern Portugal, became the most prominent region for organic farming, both in terms of area (106 416 ha) and the number of operators (502), followed by Beira Interior (43 080 ha and 234 operators). The third most important region was Trás-os-Montes, with 12 559 ha and 352 certified operators.

Source: Compiled by the author based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture - IDRHa

The areas with the highest number of processing activities are Tras-os-Montes (24.2 %) and Ribadejo Oeste (23.1 %), followed by Alentejo (10.5 %), and Entre Douro e Minho and Beira Litoral with 8.4 %. The regions with the fewest processing activities are Algarbe (6.3 %) and Beira interior (1.0 %)


Among the most typical Portuguese processed products, wine is the second most important after olive oil.
Source: Compiled by the author based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture - IDRHa


Organic Certification in Portugal

In 1995, due to an amendment of EU regulation 2092/91, the Portuguese authorities required compliance with EN 45011 (ISO 65). The rules of EN 45011 required certification to be separate for different functions and, as a consequence, Agrobio, the first Portuguese organisation that certified production as organic decided to stop this activity and focus on promotion, advice, education, etc. Socert, a certifier related to the Ecocert Group, was created solely for the purpose of dealing with regulation and certification.
Later, other private certification bodies obtained approval from the competent authorities to issue certification according to the EU Regulation. The second such body was Sativa and the third Certiplanet, and recently there have been two new companies (Agricert and Certialentejo) both located in the Alentejo region. They previously specialised in the certification of local food with Protected Designations of Origin or Protected Geographical Indications.


In Portugal, the Agriculture Ministry, Instituto de Desenvolvimento Rural e Hidraulica (IDRH), is responsible both for the application of the regulations relating to organic farming, including making sure that the EU Regulations are adequately applied, and for dealing with the approval and control of the private certification bodies. In Portugal the certification system for organic production is exclusively private.


Private certification  Bodies in Portugal







Promotion of Organic Farming

Organic farming in Portugal started in the late 1980's, but in the 1950's a prominent Portuguese agriculturalist, Luis Alberto Vilar, promoted the idea of an agricultural system that takes more account of people and the environment. However, it was the formation of Agrobio in 1985 that marked the beginning of the modern organic movement in Portugal. Nowadays, the organic sector is demanding more government support in order to increase production and marketing. In that regard, one of the observations from a paper presented at the XIth International Congress of the European Association of Agricultural Economists (EAAE) was that organic farmers in Portugal receive a lower payment per ha from CAP subsidies than other countries in the EU, both for conventional and for organic farming, and this applies to all the crops and to livestock production compared in the study. (The other countries included in the comparison were Finland, Austria, Spain, Germany and Denmark.)

There is a growing number of researchers and projects working on organic issues in response to the need to increase the consistency and quality of the programmes to develop organic farming, and to build strong networks of concerned people. In the private sector, AGROBIO carries on being the main organic organisation working at national level in Portugal. It has worked with farmers, consumers, researchers, technicians and policymakers and has collaborated intensively with other associations. The latest news regarding the organisation of the organic sector in Portugal is about creating (on 12 December 2005) a new organic inter-professional association.

Step by step, farmers, consumers, development agents and other players have been building a framework to sustain the development of organic farming in Portugal. There are, for example, postgraduate courses, like the one in Funchal (coordinated by the University of Madeira), or the one in Faro (coordinated by the University of Algarve). At the same time, some agricultural colleges across the country are starting to offer courses in organic farming. Regarding market promotion, the most important organic fairs in Portugal are the annual event "Terra Sã" in Lisbon and in Porto and the Braga Trade Fair (the next one is scheduled for 1-5 March).

Final observation

According to Dr. Ana Firmino (University of Nova de Lisboa), co-operatives would, as a way to pool effort and capital, be the ideal solution to producing and commercialising more efficiently. But several failed attempts show how difficult it is for the Portuguese people to work together. At the same time, the creation of new networks, postgraduate courses in organic agriculture and the increase in the number of producers and the land area dedicated to organic production indicate a slight move towards a sustainable organic partnership. However, consumption of organic products in Portugal remains relatively limited, and this is a key factor for a definitive development.


In the next chapter we will analyse the key players involved in organic distribution, give details about them and some information on the organic market in Portugal.


I would like to thank Nuria Alonso for checking and suggestions and for her constant support during the time of planning and writing this series.




Ana Firmino. Organic Viticultura in Portugal. Proceedings 6th International Congress on Organic Viniculture. Convention Center Basel. August 2000.


Ana Firmino. Organic Farming in Portugal.


Anna Maria Häring and Frank Offermann. Impact of the EU Common Agricultural Policy on organic in comparison to conventional farms. XIth International Congress of the EAAE. Copenhagen, Denmark, August 24-27, 2005.


Elisabeth ROHNER-THIELEN. Organic farming in Europe. Statistics in Focus AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES, 2005


Fernando Serrador. – CERTIPLANET - Portugal.- Data provided by interview. 2005 (


HELGA Willer and Minou Yussefi (Eds.) The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends, 2004.


Nuria Alonso. Portugal: Organic Production and Potential. The Organic Standard. Grolink AB. ISSUE 17, September 2002.


Organic Monitor Ltd. The European Market for Organic Fruit & Vegetables, June 1, 2005


GAIN REPORT: Portugal’s Organic Products Market. USDA. 2003


GAIN REPORT: Portugal's Organic Products. The Organic Sector at a Glance. USDA, 2000.




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