What is Organic Agriculture?

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (www.IFOAM.org) defines organic agriculture as follows (IFOAM, 2009):

“Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”

Thus, organic farming is based on a number of objectives and principles designed to minimise the human impact on the environment, while ensuring the agricultural systems operate as naturally as possible. Furthermore, organic farming is also part of a larger supply chain, which encompasses food processing, distribution and retailing sectors (Lampkin, 1990; IFOAM, 2006).

Typical organic farming practices include:

  • Strict limits on chemical synthetic pesticide, herbicide and synthetic fertiliser use, livestock antibiotics and hormones, food additives and processing aids and other inputs.
  • Absolute prohibition of the use of genetically modified organisms.
  • Wide crop rotation as a prerequisite for an efficient use of on-site resources.
  • Taking advantage of on-site resources, such as livestock manure for fertiliser or feed produced on the farm.
  • Choosing plant and animal species that are resistant to diseases and adapted to local conditions.
  • Raising livestock in free-range, open-air systems and providing them with organic feed.
  • Using animal husbandry practices appropriate to different livestock species.

In 2009 approximately 37 million hectares were managed organically worldwide, this amounts to 0.85% of the total agricultural land. From 1999 to 2009 the organically managed land area increased by 300%, with Latin America and Europe showing the highest increase in the past years (+34% and +22% respectively between 2007 and 2009). Oceania has one third (33%) of the global organic agricultural land comprising mostly of pastures, followed by Europe (25%), which has the largest share of crop land and Latin America (23%). Africa is the continent with the most organic producers (40% of 1.4 million producers), which are mostly organized in smallholder grower groups, followed by Asia (28%). Within the period of 1999 and 2009, the numbers of organic producers rose from 0.2 to 1.8 million worldwide. Key crops in organic agriculture are cereals, followed by coffee, olives, cocoa, vegetables and nuts. The main markets for organic produce are North America (48.1%) and  Europe (47.9%) (Willer and Kilcher, 2010, 2011).

Cited references

  • IFOAM, 2006. The IFOAM Norms for Organic Production and Processing. Version 2005. IFOAM, Bonn, Germany.
  • IFOAM, 2009. Definition of Organic Agriculture. IFOAM, Bonn, Germany.
  • Lampkin, N., 1990. Organic Farming. Farming Press, Ipswich.
  • Willer, H., Kilcher, L. (Eds.), 2010. The World of Organic Agriculture. Statistics and Emerging Trends 2010. IFOAM/FiBL, Bonn, Germany and Frick, Switzerland.
  • Willer, H., Kilcher, L. (Eds.), 2011. The World of Organic Agriculture - Statistics and Emerging Trends 2011. IFOAM and FiBL, Bonn, Germany and Frick, Switzerland.