‘We are in the middle of the apricot harvest at the moment. These are very busy days’, says Áron Török, associate professor of the Corvinus University of Budapest, Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, right at the beginning of the interview. (The interview was made in the summer. – editor) Over the past 15 years, he has been involved in researches related to agricultural economics, and if we want to find the roots of his interest in this area, all we have to do is look at his family.
‘Several generations of my ancestors were involved in farming, and then came the socialism and the nationalisation. We did not get our previous lands back after the change in the political system, either; we are still attached to agriculture in our souls, but I could not even dream about an own business. That would have required a lot of fixed assets’, says Áron about his relation to agriculture.
You are definitely coming to the doctoral school, aren’t you?
It was obvious that he wanted to get as close as possible to the agricultural area at university, too, that is why he started his studies in the finance programme at the Corvinus, and selected the rural development specialisation.
During his years at the University, he won the Students’ Scientific Association (TDK) competition several times, and achieved good positions in the National Conference of Students’ Scientific Associations (OTDK), too, and that was the time when he was first captivated by the research career. ‘I like competing and it feels good to dig really deep into a subject’, says Áron Török about himself, and then it was basically clear that his academic career would not end with gradation. His teachers kept asking him already in his fourth year at university: ‘You are definitely coming to the PhD programme, aren’t you?’ He needed no more encouragement.
The first three years of the doctoral school were very important for his career: ‘In the first three years of the PhD programme, I travelled a lot to conferences, to various universities, and this period yielded its results later in many respects’, said Áron. He mentioned the winning of the call for applications announced by the Australian National University in 2018 as his greatest success. That was the time when negotiations about the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Australia started, and the Australians wanted to understand the European system of geographical indications from scientific side, too, in the form of a study. Áron was selected from a group of strong international competitors for the task of writing that study, and he spent a whole semester in Canberra.
The term of geographical indicator is not really well-known, but everybody may have met the products behind this term. ‘I research the systems of protected designation of origin used by the European Union, it can be the Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese (or parmesan, as it is known in Hungary), which can be produced from milk coming from the region around Parma only, or, for instance the Gyulai sausage in Hungary.’
Áron has been working on this topic for 16 years, and realised in the Erasmus period during his PhD programme that this could be an ideal research subject. ‘Every Erasmus student knows the situation when nations present their own food and drink specialities.
As for me, I regularly joined the Erasmus parties with apricot pálinka, and it was a great success everywhere. Everything fell into place when I realised that pálinka also has a type protected with geographical indication, and it is very country-specific, too, and, at the same time, I found an extensive subject worth studying deeper’.
The first occasion when he was a co-author in an international research could be attributed to his wide-ranging international relations. ‘I was contacted by the University of Newcastle, they needed some research about a Hungarian product with geographical indication, the onion of Makó, in field work, and I immediately said yes’, he explains his first experiences. Then he points out that he was also recorded as a co-author of the study, which – as it was published in a prestigious journal – helped him a lot at the start of his career.
According to his experience, it is worth starting with minor partial tasks, as he did, and later ask colleagues to do similar minor tasks, return their favours, participate in joint tenders and establish cooperation.
You can get to learn other researchers only during work, in professional discussions, and you may never know in which project this will bring its yields for you
explains Áron Török about the importance of connections. It is no accident, that during his Australian scholarship, he invited his colleague from Parma as a contributor. ‘Later he will also think of me in similar situations’.
On the scent of Italian and Hungarian eggs
As head of department, Áron places great emphasis on researches related to agricultural trade. He is especially proud of the fact that the Institute of Sustainable Development runs a major project – as a coordinator – at the Corvinus University of Budapest, with the participation of more than ten universities. In this research, they examine global agricultural trade in the light of the sustainability objectives of the UNO.
As another interesting research, he mentions the project about purchasing habits related to eggs, conducted since 2020 jointly with the Italian Davide Menozzi and Ching-Hua Yeh, who is a researcher working in Germany. In cooperation with his colleagues in Parma and Bonn, he conducted a consumer survey, examining the differences between Italian and Hungarian purchasing habits regarding eggs with Omega 3 and/or organic eggs.
The study found that in Italy a higher ratio of consumers would select eggs with Omega 3, and the market of organic foods is generally much larger in Italy. Áron Török also added that the consumption habits of the two countries are different. This is partly due to the fact that in Hungary farmers with less than fifty hens are not obliged to indicate the codes of the place of origin on the eggs, so the sales of these eggs cannot be followed, although Hungarians buy significant quantities of ‘home-made’ eggs from these sources.
On the scent of Hungarian producers markets
His present major research project started in November 2021: it analyses the social, economic and environmental sustainability of producers markets. The project will last for four years, they examine the few hundred markets in Hungary on the basis of a representative example. The objective is to understand the phenomenon of producers markets in Hungary from as many aspects as possible.
It is fashionable to criticise global supply chains, and focus on short supply chains and local channels instead. In fact, producers markets have significant cultural and historic traditions in Hungary. This subject has a huge international literature, but it has been hardly researched in Hungary
says Áron Török about the basic concept of the research. However, a lot of questions can be raised: what do consumers and sellers expect from the markets?
Are the vendors really producers, or some of them are merchants? What presents a bigger load for the environment: if a lot of primary producers transport their products with their own vehicles, or if a large company transports the products on trucks through several countries?
Another reason why the subject of supply chains is particularly timely is that in Áron’s opinion, the last two-three years have shown how fragile the global supply chains are. ‘In the US, traditionally, there is high demand for avocados before the Super Bowl, but this year, because of the low stocks, you could buy it at a price 2.5 higher in the shops’. And this is only the beginning that affects a foodstuff that qualifies as a luxury item, but Áron thinks that the Russia-Ukraine war will be felt already in this year, and no-one sees the consequences yet.
He expects the processing industry to play a key role in the future, but it was cut back in Hungary in the past 20-25 years. He thinks that it is mainly poor countries that will be in danger, as they are unable to pay for imports, and that may push a number of countries in the direction of on-site food-processing.