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Organic Agriculture Worldwide:A Fast-Growing Reality


Acres USA
1999


Bookshelves with scientific studies are filled and the evidence cannot be
argued that the introduction of chemically synthesized pesticides has
caused tremendous environmental and social problems. In my home country of
Germany, despite all the IPM propaganda from the chemical industry and the
serious attempts of scientists and farmers to really reduce pesticide
spraying, we still dump 30,000 tons of pesticides per year on our fields.

A recent study in Germany has shown that the economic damage for our
society caused by the use of synthetic pesticides every year is in the
range of up to 300 million DM (Deutschmarks) - and this does not include
the new federal states of our republic. Even in our highly educated
country with careful training of our farmers in handling pesticides, the
costs for deadly poisoning with pesticides alone amounts to almost 8
million DM per year. The costs for monitoring the pesticide level in
drinking water is the highest cost factor at 64 million DM.

WHAT DOES SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE MEAN?

Since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED)
in Brazil in 1992, the term of sustainability has become rather
meaningless. The phrase has actually been highjacked by chemical companies
showing nice advertisements with ladybugs and weeds flowering in the
fields who claim that so-called modern agriculture with all its
chemical/synthetic interference is sustainable. Politicians and
organizations such as the United Nations have overused and overemphasized
this phrase until it has become more or less meaningless.

The organic movement and IFOAM (International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements) claim the parenthood of introducing the term
sustainability into agriculture. Already 20 years ago, the first IFOAM
International Scientific Conference in 1977 in Switzerland was titled
“Towards Sustainable Agriculture.” One of our earliest and most
fascinating pioneers in the organic movement, Lady Eve Balfour from the
United Kingdom, has given the best definition of sustainability I have
ever come across: “The criteria for a sustainable agriculture can be
summed up in one word, ‘permanence,’ which means adopting techniques that
maintain soil fertility indefinitely, that utilize as far as possible only
renewable resources, that do not grossly pollute the environment, and that
foster life energy (or if preferred biological activity) within the soil
and throughout the cycles of all the involved food chains.” That is what
organic farming is all about.

STANDARDS & RULES

There is no other farming method so clearly defined and regulated by
standards and ruses as organic agriculture. Our organic movement has four
decades of experience in not only defining our way of practicing
agriculture, but also in establishing inspection and certification schemes
to give the consumer both a guarantee and confidence in the prime quality
of our products, and especially in the environmentally sound methods by
which they are produced.

The rapidly growing importance of organic agriculture may be seen in the
development of organic regulations within “Codex Alimentarius,” as well as
in the fact that many nations such as England, Argentina, Israel,
Australia, and recently the United States are enacting legislation in this
field. The draft for the U.S. regulation recently published has been
heavily critized and has already attracted thousands of comments from
around the world, concluding that these agro-industry biased regulations
would destroy the organic movement and our market opportunities.

There are fewer problems with the regulations in other countries by far,
since they draw their inspiration from the IFOAM basic standards, which
have now been translated into 18 languages from Chinese to Swahili.
Comparable clarity cannot be found for integrated farming methods, much
less for so-called “sustainable” agriculture. We have lots of reasons to
claim that “organic agriculture is sustainability put into practice.”

A GROWING INDUSTRY

In order to get an impression about the fast growth of organic
agriculture, a look at IFOAM and its membership gives some interesting
indications. Founded in 1972 by six organizations (coming from three
continents), the federation developed after 15 years into an umbrella
federation with about 100 member organizations in 25 countries. In the
last ten years, the almost explosive development of organic agriculture
all over the world is reflected in the fact that IFOAM now unites 670
member organizations and institutions in over 100 countries worldwide.

To get an understanding of how fast organic agriculture is spreading out
we should look first at development on the farming and production level.
It is impressive to have about 8,000 organic farmers in Germany, which is
home to some of the biggest and transnational chemical companies whose
political and financial power creates quite some pressure on the organic
movement. In the federal state of Mecklenburg- Vorpommern already 10
percent of the total land is under organic cultivation. A number of other
German federal governments have committed themselves to a 10 percent
organic goal. Yet, it remains a fact that nationwide, we are in the range
of only 2 percent. Neighboring countries show what booming developments
are possible. In Switzerland the organic share has reached the range of 7
percent, with the largest Kanton (province), Graubunden, having around 30
percent. The boom in Austria, with more than 20,000 organic farmers,
indicates a 10 percent share for organic farming. But Sweden and Finland
have also reached the level of Switzerland, and they are now competing
with Austria for the lead. The latest statistics from Italy show 18,000
farms either organic or in conversion to organic farming.

Yet there has also been impressive development in the Southern Hemisphere
and in the so-called Third World. An organic farming project for
cotton-producing farmers in Uganda started with a couple of hundred
farmers and within three years has shown that 7,000 farmers moved to
cultivate organic cotton. In Mexico tens of thousands of campesinos (small
farmers) produce organic coffee for export, as well as staple food
organically for the local market. The Mexican UCIRI cooperative alone has
organized some 7,000 farmers in over 30 villages converting a whole region
into organic farming.

CONSUMER MARKET

Fortunately, the market development and consumer demand for organic
products is matched by the rapid growth of conversion to organic farming
methods. The organic market in the United States is in the range of $3
billion and is expected to double in the next two or three years. In
Germany, we can see how the whole babyhood sector is well on its way to
becoming more or less exclusively organic. Also, the fact that more than
30 percent of the daily bread in Munich is baked with certified organic
ingredients is a clear indicator that organic products conquer mainstream
markets.

It may be surprising that even in a country like Egypt, organic produce is
becoming mainstream. The biodynamic SEKEM initiative, employing about
1,000 people, delivers its products to 6,000 pharmacies and to 1,200
shops. Egypt, being a nation of tea drinkers, has shown its preference for
organic tea by the fact that the best selling herb tea is certified
organic. Rapidly growing consumer demand is also reported from countries
like Argentina, Japan, Poland and Australia. The boom for organic products
is not a luxury of the developed world, as we have seen in the case of
Egypt. It is encouraging that local markets for organic food are becoming
increasingly established in so-called developing countries. The growing
importance in this context will be close cooperation between organic
agriculture and the fair trade movement.

The organic sector is probably the most rapidly growing food market in the
world. Respected organic market analysts like Professor Ulrich Hamm have
forecasted annual growth rates of 20 to 30 percent and, in some countries,
even up to 50 percent per year. The largest organic trader in the United
Kingdom expects today’s estimated $11 billion world organic market to go
to a volume of $100 billion in the next then years, with a major share of
this growth taking place in the United States and Japan. In the context of
these figures and forecasts, Denmark’s target of reaching a 20 percent
market share of the total food market for organic products in the next
couple of years sounds quite realistic.

An indication of the organic future ahead is the fact that McDonald’s
(with organic milk in Sweden), Nestle, Sandoz, Lufthansa and, lately, with
a lot of media attention and an ambitious commitment, Swiss Air (catering
25,000 meals per day), have entered the organic sector.

GENETIC ENGINEERING

Many people may not see that organic farming will one day be so widespread
that synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides become “endangered
species.” I certainly do not want to have the farmers worldwide forced
legally to stop using pesticides. But I do trust in the power of markets
and consumer demands, as well as in the convincing fact that our organic
and often-called “biological” way of farming is so logical.

The organic movement and the environmentalists are ready for the next
struggle - genetic engineering, which is accelerating the already existing
problems of pesticide use, and enters our environment with a new dimension
of global risk. In the promotion of genetic engineering, we hear the same
unrealistic promises as we heard when chemistry was introduced into
farming. If we continue to manipulate genetic organisms, we will face
problems, which we may quite likely never get under control.

Genetic engineering has to be rejected for many reasons: It is dangerous
and not at all risk tolerant. It is absolutely not necessary for food
production and processing, and it is not economically viable (which
doesn’t mean that the big multinationals cannot reap huge profits).

If one has a basic understanding of the underlying principles of organic
farming and knows about the power of nature, one will agree with the firm
position of the organic movement that genetic engineering has no place
either on organic farms or on any other field. I will continue to support
the 76 percent of German consumers that are against genetic engineering in
food and will work to ensure that the future of genetic engineering will
soon become history.

During my first practical training in farming on a conventional farm which
used all the chemical options available, I realized very quickly that this
cannot be the future for farming. Most fascinating for me was that organic
farming is not at all a “do nothing way” of farming and that it does not
get its strength by being against something like pesticides or synthetic
fertilizers. Organic farming has at its core an attention to healthy soils
and cycle economies, and it cares about the social aspects of agricultural
pursuits.

If we continue with this positive approach, the organic movement will be
the starting point, not only for healthier farmers and food, but also for
a change in lifestyle and consumption patterns, thus helping to develop
sustainable societies with a bottom-up strategy - namely, field to field,
farm to farm, shop to shop, village to village, and region to region. Look
more closely at what organic farming has to offer. Have the courage to be
more “radical” (in the truest sense of the word, of going to the roots)
and join the organic movement.

Bernward Geier, Executive director, International Federation of Organic
Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

 

 

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