Interview with Lukas Flinzberger (University of Göttingen)
Editor: Blanca Casares (AIEDL)
Mr. Lukas Flinzberger, re-known scientist at University of Göttingen, just published an article on EU-wide mapping of ‘Protected Designations of Origin’ food products (PDOs) reveals correlations with social-ecological landscape values. The results of this paper are highly relevant for the work of the Horizon 2020 project MOVING (MOuntain Valorisation through INterconnectedness and Green growth), and will be discussed at the webinar of the EU Multi-Actor Platform organised by AEIDL (8 November 2022) on European Quality schemes: the added value for mountain value chains.
The Geographical Indications (GIs) scheme is the EU’s primary policy tool for increasing the market values of geographically distinct food products. Although GIs are linked to the landscapes of food production, little is known about the social-ecological values they represent, mainly due to a lack of spatial data. In this study, Lukas Flinzberger and colleagues mapped all 638 food products labeled as PDOs and correlated their distribution with 13 social-ecological indicators. By compiling this novel dataset, they show that the presence of PDOs strongly overlaps with environmental and cultural values. They reveal positive correlations of PDO frequency with high nature value farmland, semi-natural agriculture, tourism, and cultural heritage indicators. Further, they find that PDOs occur more often in economically weaker areas with older and declining populations.
Q: When did you start this study and why?
The study started at the end of 2020. The mapping of all European food products labelled as PDO took some time. The reason for this study was that, specifically for the labelling of products from agroforestry systems, experts saw a good opportunity in the European GI system. Even better than creating a new agroforestry label from scratch.
Q: What were the basic criteria for selecting indicators? What are the main constraints to select them?
The criteria for selecting the indicators were, firstly, that they represent the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and cultural, and economic aspects) related to agriculture. Secondly, it was important for us to have indicator datasets covering all EU-27 Member States. And thirdly, we needed indicators at the level of NUTS-3 regions (the lowest level of nomenclature for territorial statistics within the EU).
Most of the data were available from EUROSTAT or the EEA and in the correct format. More problematic was the mapping of PDO producing regions, where the geographical extent of each producing region was only described in text format that had to be transferred to maps.
Q: What are the main results obtained regarding the correlation of PDOs and social-ecological indicators? What are the main findings of the study?
We explored the significance of PDOs for environment, rural development, and social wellbeing. According to our results, there is a positive correlation between the environmental and cultural-tourist values of a region and the number of PDOs registered in that region. Although we cannot claim a strict causal relationship, these correlations are relatively strong (given the large and heterogeneous data set) and point to interesting trends. At the same time, demographic and structural indicators are negatively correlated with PDOs. One of the main differences between Mediterranean and Northern European countries is that economic indicators are positively correlated with PDOs in the Mediterranean, but negatively in Northern Europe. These results can be explained by the predominance of Mediterranean countries in PDO products (more than 80% of PDOs in 8 countries).
Q: What would be the added value and the main opportunities of PDOs for rural and mountain areas?
In our opinion, the results point to several opportunities for rural development. It seems that the marketing of rural products is easier when there is a famous and recognised regional brand, and traditional or region-specific food products are part of this “brand”. The fame of this product can also be transferred to other economic areas such as gastronomic tourism or agro-tourism. Moreover, direct marketing works best with well-known regional products. From some interviews, we know that the PDO label is not so important for the local population, but it is very useful for marketing the product outside the region.
Another great opportunity is the introduction of sustainability standards in the legal texts of PDOs. It is planned to start on a voluntary basis, but we advocate minimum sustainability requirements that should be mandatory for all products.
Q: Lukas, as you may know, to ensure that rural areas can continue to play their essential role, a European Commission communication sets out a long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas (LTVRA) up to 2040. Among the various initiatives associated with the LTVRA, the EC plans to set up a Rural Observatory to bring together all data collected by the Commission on rural areas, including official statistics.
Do you think this Observatory should include information on these quality figures? What could more information for rural and regional areas entail?
Above all, it needs a set of geographical data for all products registered as geographical indications (PDOs and PGIs). For a label focusing on the geography of the origin of its products, it would be crucial to have their geographical spread. This dataset could of course be included in the Rural Observatory.
In addition to this, it would also be good to have information on the economics of each of the products registered in the database. Right now, information on the turnover of niche products is a mystery to outsiders.