The 17th International Congress of Producer Organizations (ICOP), which brought together speakers and participants from all over Europe, was held at the Hotel Barceló in Cabo de Gata, Almeria, Spain, on November 22.

The event was presented by Wolfgang Braunstein, from the Austrian consulting firm gfa, organizer of the event; Aranzazu Martin, delegate of the Government of Andalusia in Almeria; Juan Antonio Gonzalez, president of Coexphal, and Gonçalo Andrade, president of Portugal Fresh, who acted as moderator.

The first presentation of the afternoon was given by Jan van der Blom, from Coexphal, who talked about the evolution of horticulture in Almeria since its beginnings, now 50 years ago; a process in which Jan has played an active part, since he moved from the Netherlands to Almeria three decades ago.

The growth of the greenhouse acreage since the 1970's, when this agricultural model was first introduced, has been unstoppable. Today, Almeria has some 33,000 hectares of solar greenhouses "that produce fruit and vegetables all year round for 500 million Europeans," said Jan. Cooperation, achieved through cooperatives, agricultural associations or fruit and vegetable producer organizations, has been one of the keys to achieve this success. There are about 14,000 producers with farms with an average of 2.5 hectares in production, although such a success could not have been achieved without the sector's solid commitment to sustainable production and the adoption of integrated control, which soared in 2007 after the problems caused by pesticide residues detected in bell pepper exports to Germany.

Luc Vanoirbeek then presented the challenges faced by the fruit and vegetable sector, focusing on food waste. The fact is that if all food waste was a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, only behind the United States and China.

Sustainability in the production will, in fact, cease to be a voluntary factor to become mandatory by law, in a context of expected population growth and uncertainty, which the EU will support with the CMOs.

In the second round, Simona Caselli, from AREFLH, spoke about sustainability, food security and climate change, emphasizing the need to continue relying on fruit and vegetable packaging.

For his part, Juan Carlos Pérez Mesa, from the University of Almeria, focused on markets and the challenges involved for Almeria's production. Not only on direct factors, but also on indirect factors that have led to a 34.4% increase in costs, which entails not just higher expenses, but also higher risks.

In his speech, he stressed the need to convey a correct image of Almeria's agriculture to European consumers, to prevent misconceptions regarding a leading sector in terms of sustainability.

Lastly, Raquel Aguado, from FEDEMCO, outlined the advantages of wooden packaging, a natural, recyclable and reusable material, and talked about the new Ecowoox certification, the only international certification that certifies the recyclability and reusability of wooden packaging.