4 min

Boundless Opportunities for Sustainable Agriculture in Portugal

Sustainable agriculture is core to what we do at Kiwa Portugal. In fact, Sativa (the company acquired by KIWA in 2018, now called Kiwa Portugal) has been a pioneer in organic farming in the country for nearly 30 years since 1993, specializing in Food, Feed, and Farm standards.

Certification responsibilities extend to roughly 30 regional quality products, besides several other certification schemes. These certifications resonate with consumers, guiding them towards informed choices. It's a significant commitment that underlines our dedication to sustainability.

Portuguese Agriculture Through an EU Lens

“When we talk about sustainable agriculture in Portugal, it’s crucial first to mention the overarching Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a significant influencer in European agriculture,” says Luís Hortêncio, newly appointed Head of Operations at KIWA Portugal, whose diverse background spans various roles and industries — from animal production and dairy farming to roles in certification and global and European sustainability projects.

“Roughly one-third of the European Union's budget is dedicated to CAP. It holds immense sway over agricultural strategies and growth across member states, including Portugal. CAP's inception in 1962, post-World War II, aimed to ensure food accessibility and affordability. While the essence remains similar, the focus has evolved. The new CAP, which covers 2023 - 2027, aims for fairness, greater environmental consciousness, and performance-based measures. It aligns with environmental, climate, and biodiversity strategies to reflect changing consumer demands and growing climate concerns. And includes the three pillars encompassing social, environmental, and economic aspects — all of which are central to sustainability.”

“We also need to consider the alignment of CAP with policies like the European Green Deal, the Biodiversity Strategy, and the Farm to Fork strategy, showcasing an evolving commitment to collective sustainability,” adds Luís.

Promoting Sustainable Farming Practices and Technologies in Portugal

“In Portugal specifically, the real challenge in sustainability lies in the societal structure of agriculture,” furthers Luís. “Most farmers here are over 65 years old, which presents a hurdle in implementing sustainable practices. However, the transition isn't so concerning for our team at KIWA Portugal. The sustainability principles are still relevant; it's more about aligning with new frameworks and adapting to changing demands. We focus on inducing change within a social context that might not be very flexible.”

A challenge lies ahead in terms of attracting young individuals to agriculture. This seems tied to income, as agricultural work generally offers lower wages than alternative occupations, making it less attractive. Added to that is the migration of individuals from rural areas to cities, leading to the depletion of rural regions. Thankfully, universities in Portugal and across Europe are stimulating change by significantly contributing to sharing knowledge and expertise in the field. This emphasis on knowledge transfer is supported by political funding as well.

Technology, in particular, also plays a pivotal role in this evolution. A prime example is the rise of smart farming coupled with decreasing technology costs. This makes it feasible for farms to adopt advanced tools, which is quite promising. Another noteworthy aspect is the potential for increased agricultural income through avenues such as the carbon market. These are novel concepts, and they offer tangible avenues for embracing sustainable agricultural methods.

Furthermore, new eco-schemes introduced this year are also driving change. They comprise a range of non-mandatory activities from which farmers can choose and receive economic compensation after implementation. These schemes serve as tools to support regulatory policies and are aimed at rewarding farmers who go beyond the norm regarding environmental stewardship and climate action. Such schemes hold great value for sustainability, and they differ from previous schemes by focusing on aspects like animal welfare, feed efficiency, and gas emissions.

Luís, who joined KIWA Portugal to lead its transformation towards greater sustainability, is positive about the progress being made, “I'm optimistic we'll navigate the challenges effectively. We must seize opportunities that present themselves. At Kiwa, we've built substantial expertise, making us a reliable and trusted partner for stakeholders. After all, every country relies on agriculture in some form or another. Persistence is key.”

Kiwa Portugal’s Recognition as a Control and Certification Body (OC)

“I’m pleased to say that Kiwa Portugal has recently received official recognition from the DGADR in Portugal as a Control and Certification Body (OC) for three new certification schemes: 1) Animal Welfare and Rational Use of Antimicrobial Agents, 2) Soil Conservation - Biodiverse Pastures, and 3) Improving Animal Feed Efficiency to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. This recognition empowers us to oversee various interventions under the PEPAC Portugal application regime,” furthers Luís.

Being recognized for these schemes positions KIWA Portugal well to stay in sync with any foreseeable adjustments in regulations, often occurring within the first year of a new policy's implementation. While only one of the current three eco-schemes is linked to certification, the others are control schemes for monitoring rather than certifying. Nevertheless, this shift sets the stage for potential expansion into new certification domains. “We’re fully engaged in staying prepared for upcoming changes in regulations, whether it pertains to animal welfare or carbon farming. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to develop our expertise further and expand into new certification areas”.

Also, Kiwa Portugal's renewal as an Entity Recognizing Irrigants (ERR) for the ‘Efficient Water Use’ intervention further highlights the commitment to sustainable practices. These accomplishments underline our expertise and dedication to positively impacting agriculture and the environment, striving for sustainability, animal welfare, and environmental protection. It must be said that ERR is not a new endeavour for Kiwa. We've been involved in this area for some time to enhance irrigation efficiency, particularly in regions like Southern Europe grappling with water scarcity due to climate shifts. Our team of experts conduct measurements and controls to ensure commitments made by farmers to improve irrigation efficiency are upheld. While not certifiable in the same way as some other areas, these certifications align with our commitment to environmental protection.

New and Exciting Avenues for Certification within Sustainability

KIWA Portugal's involvement also extends to other certification realms. For instance, we are actively contributing to the sustainability of the wine sector in Portugal through a national certification initiative. This year marked the launch of this new programme, and we are proud to be a recognized certification body for it. We are also making strides in the realm of forest and agriculture. With a partnership in place, we are working towards becoming a certification body for forest certifications, further expanding our impact and expertise.

Concerted Efforts Towards Sustainable Action

“In a nutshell, we aim to be a comprehensive solution provider, a one-stop shop, for various sectors like food, farm, feed, and now forest,” states Luís. “The foundational principles of sustainable practices are enduring, yet our expertise has adapted over time, integrating new scientific knowledge while retaining our foundational knowledge. What is more, I believe that trust, integrity, and transparency are at the core of our identity. While technical expertise is crucial, persistent integrity will set us apart. Our clients can rely on us as a trustworthy partner because we’re dedicated to fostering consumer confidence through our labelling and certifications, emphasizing quality, safety, and sustainability.”

“I believe that for us to make a change, we need to see sustainability as a synergy between the three key pillars of environmental, social, and economic,” concludes Luís. “These facets are interconnected and integral to true sustainability. Sustainability cannot be solely confined to environmental concerns; it must encompass all three elements. Nature operates in cycles, and our approach should emulate this. Sustainability demands a holistic perspective, harmonizing all aspects rather than separating them into boxes. This holistic approach is crucial to achieving genuine sustainability and lasting impact. I’m positive we’ll see the results of our combined efforts to reach greater sustainability for all our stakeholders, a ripple effort we know we cannot do alone.”