Die FiBL-Chronik – Geschichte des des Forschungsinstituts für biologischen Landbaus (Dez. 2011)

September 12, 2019

Chronicle of FiBL Translation and subtitles: Sonja Wopfner Early 1970s:
Does Switzerland need
research in organic agriculture? Several years ago,
the Swiss National Council proposed to create a research institute
for organic agriculture. However, this idea was rejected,
but what was the reason behind it? You are probably thinking of
the postulate by National Councillor Schalcher? The postulate was rejected because
in conventional agriculture, as you call it, we are already doing quite a lot of research
that goes in the direction of organic agriculture. Federal Councillor Brugger,
more precisely his boss from the Federal Office for Agriculture,
Jean-Claude Piot, asked all research institutes to report to him what they did for organic agriculture. He got a great number of responses
and a comprehensive dossier was created. Everything you could imagine
was already being done. All agriculture is
in and of itself an organic production. Now, if a distinct group
tries to develop the term “organic” for – I do not want to use
the word “special treatment” – special production modes… However, for me,
all agriculture remains organic. Your reserve did not keep
the supporters of organic agriculture from deepening their knowledge themselves
and backing it up scientifically. For this purpose,
they set up their own foundation and their own small research institute. We are now going to
watch a film about that. In 1970, National Councillor Schalcher wanted the Swiss government to set up
its own research institute for organic agriculture. Since this was not a success,
a group around National Councillor Schalcher founded a private non-profit institution. Its headquarters are in this
small house here, in Oberwil near Basel. We set up the foundation
with a hefty capital of 13’000 francs and the following goals: 1. It should be economically responsible
for the research institute. 2. It should support
the advisory services for farms. 3. It should raise the awareness among producers
and consumers and promote their collaboration. Organic research is severely lagging behind conventional research. The only Swiss organic research institute has only existed since 1974 –
at first as a one-man business. Today, seven people are working
in this small house in Oberwil, with a budget of approximately
350‘000 Swiss francs per year at their disposal. In comparison, the seven
Swiss agricultural research institutions receive more than
40 million Swiss francs every year. National Councillor Heinrich Schalcher
from Winterthur is the president of the foundation. We asked him, why he, as a politician,
is committed to organic agriculture. I consider it as one of the
most noble and urgent missions of politics and politicians to deal with the dangers of mechanisation
for people, animals and plants. The breakthrough came, and that is also why FiBL is located in the
north-west of Switzerland today, thanks to a colleague
of mine from ETH Zurich. Professor Bachmann
was in charge of the section “Milk” at the ETH in the
Department of Food Science. Bachmann told me that his sister was married to an architect called Stamm, who owns a large farm
on the Bruderholz in Basel. Bachmann introduced me to the Stamm family. It was soon agreed that Mr Stamm would put his farm at our disposal
as headquarters for the institute. Fritz Baumgartner
then became the first manager. In Oberwil, Hartmut Vogtmann began to set up the institute
under very basic conditions. Dr Vogtmann is an agronomic engineer
specialised in food technology. He runs the organic research institute. Mr Vogtmann,
in Switzerland, only about 1 per cent of agricultural land is managed organically. Why did you devote yourself to this field? My first contacts with organic agriculture
go back to the year 1970, when I took part in a seminar
on natural philosophy at ETH Zurich. At the beginning,
the most important thing was that we had found an energetic and original
first head of the institute. He did his PhD with Prof. Schürch and went to Canada for a postdoc. At that time,
Michael Rist and I worked on him until he came back. Vogtmann made the first move. 1975:
Start of the first DOK trial Very early on,
the first DOK trial was created. One of the largest trials,
the so-called DOK-trial, is carried out together with
the Federal Research Institute for Agricultural Chemistry
and Environmental Hygiene in Liebefeld. At FiBL, we expect
three answers from the DOK trial. 1. What influence do the different agricultural systems
have on the quality of the products? 2. What is the performance of each system? 3. We hope to draw
practical conclusions from the DOK trial that we can integrate into the
advisory services for organic agriculture. The first results of the DOK trial
are expected to arrive in five years. From your point of view: Could organic agriculture
become an alternative? That is certainly possible. However, this question cannot be answered yet, otherwise we would not even carry out
this long-term trial, which we do for this very reason. We do not want to
dismiss this alternative at all. On the contrary, we support such trials
via the research institute in Liebefeld. By the way, within the framework
of the National Research Program and the commission for applied research,
further trials are carried out. So far, I told the story as if everything
had always been wonderful, as if between friends. However, in the Foundation Council, debates could sometimes get heated. Especially when we began to hire staff, there were big debates
for example on the question of salaries. Within the
foundation to promote organic agriculture, a little argument seems to be going on about the true objectives
of the foundation and of organic agriculture. However, we do not want to interfere. I have already mentioned
the difficulties within the Foundation Council. These were resolved when Heinz Zumstein
superseded Heinrich Schalcher as president. From then on, we got new impetus. Moreover, Zumstein could
negotiate with Stamm on an equal footing. Zumstein was also able to negotiate
with the Christoph Merian Foundation, which resulted in a new site
for the research institute at the Bernhardsberg. 1981:
Common guidelines and foundation of Bio Suisse Consumers should know the difference
between organic and conventional agriculture. That is why there now are
guidelines for organic products. The first common guidelines in Switzerland
and then in the whole world have certainly been a very important milestone
in the development of organic agriculture. The director of the institute at that time, Hartmut Vogtmann,
was in charge of this process. For the first time,
the standards of organic agriculture are described and defined clearly
for all Swiss organic producers. With these standards,
the Swiss Confederation and the health authorities should be able to convert
the guidelines into an ordinance, which enables a better protection
and control of organic products. 1986: Fire in Schweizerhalle –
Agrochemical industry criticised Chemicals involve the use of toxic products. We were made aware of this
on the night between 31 October and 1 November. After the disastrous blaze in Schweizerhalle, Sandoz itself partly
renounced toxic chemicals. Will the chemical industry
one day manage without chemicals? This is Henri Suter;
he’s agronomic engineer. Since Henri Suter has
turned his back on the chemical industry, he runs the world’s only
institute carrying out research on organic agriculture
with scientific methods here in Oberwil. After this disaster, the chemical industry itself says:
We are going to change. We are going to work with softer chemicals. Do you believe that? We must see the different dimensions. I think the chemical industry
is capable of searching other solutions. For sure, because there are
many brilliant minds in the chemical industry. However, the chemical industry has strong unique structures
especially in marketing. 1993: Coop joins the organic market With «Naturaplan» Coop offers another label, one that wants to set new standards and is even accepted
by the strict organic farmers. I consider it a
breakthrough for organic products to have a major retailer go organic. At the beginning, it was not easy with the Association of the Swiss Organic Agriculture Organisations
(today’s Bio Suisse) because there were only 3 or 4 employees For a major retailer the collaboration
with such a small organisation was difficult. FiBL played an important role in that. At that time, FiBL, more precisely Urs Niggli,
helped a lot to build up this collaboration. The first important project with FiBL was the apple project, which started in 1994. The goal was to produce good,
Bio Suisse-certified apples in Switzerland. It was a great achievement
that within only three years, FiBL succeeded in creating the conditions to produce excellent Bio Suisse-certified apples
in Switzerland, partly with new varieties. Since then we have
new research projects with FiBL every year. 1990s: FiBL goes international FiBL started early to engage internationally. It began in 1975, when the institute
collaborated with the then still very young IFOAM. We felt that national progress
could only be achieved by positioning ourselves internationally. This automatically results in
more importance on a national level. In the 90s we resumed this approach. That is how our
International Department came to be. When the Iron Curtain fell,
there was a real surge and the international work
was again given a strong impetus in the 90s. Also organic farmers
organise themselves worldwide. Representatives from 107 states
are meeting today in Basel during four days
at the Organic World Congress. Federal Councillor Deiss and
former Federal Councillor Stich attended the event. Organic agriculture is booming.
From Basel, our correspondent Daniel Scheffer: Experts from all over the world are meeting
at the Organic World Congress in Basel. The organic boom is the number one topic. I think organic agriculture
is like a pioneering movement moving into a new phase. This opening up of organic agriculture
must be accompanied and it is necessary to
enter into a dialogue with people, and to consider
developments and scientific results coming from beyond organic agriculture. In my eyes, FiBL is in a pole position to channel and
pursue this dialogue successfully. When I have a look at the current annual report
and see more than hundred employees, I wonder where do they get the money from. It’s incredible what FiBL has become and the people that it was able to mobilise: for example former
Federal Councillor Stich and many more. FiBL has become a flourishing institution
and that makes me happy. Translation and subtitles: Sonja Wopfner In memoriam: Philippe Matile (1932-2011)

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