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Park products: «The Thaler sausage is our Roger Federer»

In the Thal Regional Nature Park in the Solothurn Jura, the «Swiss parks» product label has already been awarded to 14 food products. All those involved are delighted, and nature and the environment benefit indirectly from this commercial success.

Guldental in the Thal Regional Nature Park. The village of Mümliswil can be seen in the distance.
Guldental in the Thal Regional Nature Park. The village of Mümliswil can be seen in the distance.
© Roland Gerth/swiss-image.ch/ Switzerland Tourism – FOEN

Just three months later negotiations began and in September 2009 the supermarket agreed to include products from the Thal Nature Park in its range. At the start of 2010, the first Thaler sausages and cheeses bearing the product label and the park logo appeared on Coop shelves.

Since then more products have been certified and are now available from village shops and retail outlets in the region. For Michael Bur, the park products are of key importance: "They give a face to the nature park outside its boundaries and project its image to the outside world," he explains. "They are our ambassadors. The Thaler sausage is our Roger Federer: elegant, yet down-to-earth and likeable."

In other parks, park products are also held in high ­regard. François Margot, Project Manager of the prospective Gruyère Pays-d'Enhaut Regional Nature Park in the Alpine foothills of the French-speaking part of Switzerland, points out that the certified products will help to forge a common identity for the communities making up the park, generate networks among the various players and build bridges, for example between agriculture and tourism. The main focus is on different cheese varieties. As they can often only be supplied in limited quantities and if possible the entire value creation chain in the region should be exploited, sales are made mainly in the park and in the surrounding towns and cities. "Nevertheless, we would be interested in any enquiries from a major distributor," says Margot.

Promoting sustainable regional development. Any benefactor of a park of national importance can apply to use the product label. The label can be used for foods, non-food products and for services. The requirements were drawn up by the FOEN in consultation with the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). "When we did it, we used the guidelines for regional brands that are recognised by the Federal Office for Agriculture," explains Patrik Aebi, Head of the Quality and Sales Promotion Division at FOAG. The goods and services awarded the label should basically be produced or provided within the area of the park, and the main raw materials must come from the region. ­Simone Remund, project manager for parks at the FOEN, regards the product label as an important way of promoting sustainable regional development. "It is intended to help to preserve natural assets and landscapes, not to mention cultural values, that are typical of the park region, and to bolster the regional economy."

View to the west from the Rodosex-Dessus meadow
View to the west from the Rodosex-Dessus meadow
© Marcus Gyger/swiss-image.ch/ Switzerland Tourism – FOEN

A considerable workload. In the past two years, the Thal Nature Park has done the pioneering work needed for products bearing the park label. "Time and again we have received enquiries from parks that are currently in their establishment phase," says Michael Bur. In the coming years, further products bearing the label may be added, ideally in categories other than just foodstuffs. However, the park authority will no longer be able to provide the all-round support that it has given to the manufacturers of the first 14 products. "The administrative work is considerable. We provide advice to manufacturers and processors, organise and provide support with certification, help with marketing and product launches," Bur stresses. The Thal Nature Park is therefore drawing up a list of services. This sets out the forms of support that the branch office will be able to offer in future to manufacturers and service providers that are interested in the label.

The large amount of work and the resultant costs mean that the product label is in most cases only worthwhile for medium-sized businesses. Farms that sell their products from farm shop have no need for it. In their case, it is quite obvious that the product is local. In addition, only a commercial producer can guarantee that the foodstuffs can be supplied in sufficiently large quantities and at a constant quality level.

Nevertheless, there are economic benefits for the entire region. "These businesses have their roots in the region, they create jobs, train apprentices, use local raw materials and are tightly integrated into the value creation chains," Michael Bur says. "They help to keep the region alive."

Indirect benefits for nature and the landscape. But what use are growing sales of sausages and cheese to nature and the landscape? The benefits are indirect and more long-term. "Partners support the efforts of the park to persuade meat suppliers to provide services that conserve nature, in a way that goes beyond some sort of ecological stamp of approval," as in the case, for example, of the partnership agreement between the Thal Regional Natural Park and the village butcher in Matzendorf. "Opportunities to do this are provided by the canton of Solothurn's nature and landscape programme which runs over several years (agreements on forest margins, summer pastures, hay meadows or hedges), and by acti­vities of the local or regional nature conservation organisations or the projects carried out by the park authority."

No one is under any obligation to do anything. To impose some form of organic farming requirement or other special measures on farmers to encourage biodiversity, for example, would, in Michael Bur's view, be clearly contrary to the park philosophy. Nevertheless he is convinced that the agreements will also bring benefits to nature and the landscape. "If the inhabitants of the region see that the park is bringing them economic advantages, they will also be ready to support or even initiate projects to maintain and encourage biodiversity."

Contact: magazin@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 01.02.2011

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