Agroecological Centre (AEC) at the Agricultural University (AU) of Plovdiv was founded in 1989 as a society of 14 organisations, which took the initiative for proclamation and establishment of organic agriculture in Bulgaria. The AEC aimed to coordinating the efforts of researchers, students, farmers and consumers to introduce organic agriculture in Bulgaria, through training, development of applied research and demonstration projects, also by farm advisory and consultancy, inspection and certification of organic products. Serious work was done to complete these aims during the last 25 years. Opportunities for international cooperation arose at the end of 1993, when the AEC was accepted as a full member of IFOAM. Since then, more than 40 specialists from different departments, laboratories, and experimental farms of the AU-Plovdiv and other GOs and NGOs have been included as voluntary workers at the AEC. The AEC is equipped with laboratory apparatus, library and agro-meteorological station to conduct research studies. Significant experience was gained during several years of international cooperation with Agricultural University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, and the Universities of Florence and Bologna, Italy. As a result, more than 20 students and researchers had access to modern scientific literature and practical information as well as an opportunity to improve their knowledge and skills on organic agriculture. Financially supported by an EU PHARE Project AR/301/91, the AEC built up a Demonstration and Research Centre for sustainable and organic farming as part of AU-Plovdiv Research and Experimental Station. The Demo-Centre has facilities to accommodate and train farmers, researchers, policy makers and other community groups. Each year, more than 300 students of AU-Plovdiv in the majors Organic Agriculture, Ecology and Environmental Protection and Agroforestry are trained during their BSc and MSc courses using the research and demonstration facilities of AEC and following the teaching curricula developed by the AEC.
Participation in national and international projects:
- A significant experience was gained as a result of a 3-year participation in EU TEMPUS Project and cooperation with Wageningen Agricultural University, the Netherlands, and the Universities of Bologna and Florence, Italy. The teaching curricula of Ecology and Agroecology majors were improved, as well as more than 20 students and lecturers were trained in organic agriculture improving their scientific skills.
- Between 1995-1999 the AEC participated in an EU PHARE Project AR/301/91 “Setting up Demonstration Centres for Sustainable Agriculture in the Danube River Basin and Regional Study on Market Aspects“. The main goal was to achieve changes in attitude to reduce barriers for adoption of proven methods for sustainable agriculture, while they are demonstrated and included in educational programs. Demonstration Centres for Sustainable Agriculture in three Danube countries - Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania were established. They serve as an example of how organic and sustainable agriculture can be achieved under Central and Eastern Europe socio-economic and political conditions. An important component of the Project was the research that investigated the effect of these environmentally-friendly agricultural practices on natural resources as well as their economic viability. First in Bulgaria Demonstration organic farm with Research and Education Centre (REC) was built up on 10 ha arable land, including an orchard, a vineyard, forage and vegetable crop rotations, which are grown following IFOAM and EU Standards for Organic Agriculture. From 1996 to 2003 a herd of 40 sheep was maintained on the farm to comply with the concept of mixed farming systems and the closed nutrient cycle. It brought added value to the farm products. This organically produced food is marketed to interested consumers at an organic stand at the Open Market in the city of Plovdiv, as well as the regional shops. These achievements were noticed by HRH Charles, the Prince of Wales, during his visit in Bulgaria and at the AEC farm in November 1998.
- The AEC farm and its REC are the main units for practical training and teaching of farmers, young agricultural experts, agronomists, local municipality administrators and AU-Plovdiv students in Agroecology and Plant Protection in organic and sustainable agricultural practices. Until 2003, more than 200 people from the above-mentioned groups were educated and trained during workshops, seminars and training courses organized by the AEC.
- In 1999, a Concept for National Strategy for Sustainable Agriculture was written and presented by the AEC to the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture and thee Ministry of Environment.
- Between 1997 and 2001 a number of international projects were successfully conducted, such as: “Improving eco-farming and gardening in Bulgaria”, in collaboration with Rodope Municipality and Drianovo Municipality, Bulgaria and financed by the Austrian Chancellery; "Development of techniques for promotion of organic and sustainable farming in three European countries” financed by the EU PHARE Program, and “Agri-environmental Programmes in Central and Eastern European countries 2078/88” – coordinated by AVALON Foundation, the Netherlands and financed by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Nature Protection.
- In cooperation with the Institute for Biological Agriculture (FiBL), Switzerland and their BG partners, AEC published education materials on the main principles of organic farming and the possibilities for its development in Bulgaria, Standards and Certification Program for organic farming, organic fruit and vegetable production, etc.
- Between 2009 and 2012, two important projects, i.e. on improving field methodology for organic vegetable production (financed by the Bulgarian governmental fund ‘Science’) and on Setting up and running education organic farm for school students (financed by the Norwegian Embassy) were successfully conducted. AEC helped with organic expertise in the conduction of an international project New Thracian Gold (www.newthraciangold.eu ).
AEC has established a network of partners, both governmental and NGOs, that is actively involved in the development of organic and sustainable farming at national level and worldwide. The network includes:
- Dept. of Agroecology and Organic farming at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Environment and Waters and the Regional Inspectorate in Plovdiv;
- Association for Ecological Agriculture Ecofarm - Plovdiv;
- Foundation for Biological Farming Bioselena;
- Dutch and Austrian Embassies in Sofia;
- Foundation AVALON, the Netherlands;
- Wageningen Agricultural University, the Netherlands;
- Institute for Biological Agriculture (FiBL), Switzerland;
- ETC Foundation, the Netherlands;
- IIZ Consultancy, Austria and Аgro Eco Consultancy, the Netherlands;
- NGOs in Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Estonia, Latvia, etc.
AEC main aims and activities are:
- Promotion of organic agriculture and the methods for protection of environment and biodiversity from industrial and agricultural pollution in Bulgaria and worldwide.
- Education and training in organic agriculture, agroecology and other environmentally-friendly practices, done by qualified agricultural experts and scientists from the Agricultural University-Plovdiv at the AEC Demonstration and REC in Plovdiv.
- Advice and expert help to farmers, municipalities and processing units as well as business plans for conversion to organic farming, farm management and rural development.
- Development of national and international projects for organic agriculture and assistance in application procedure