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Press Release 99/3


Rome, 25 January - Consumer demand for organically produced food is on the rise and provides new market opportunities for farmers and businesses around the world, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today in a report presented to the Committee on Agriculture. "Under the right circumstances, the market returns from organic agriculture can potentially contribute to local food security by increasing family incomes," the report said.

Though only a small percentage of farmers are expected to become organic producers, in several developed countries organic agriculture already represents a significant portion of the food system: 10 percent in Austria and 7.8 percent in Switzerland. Other countries such as the United States, France, Japan and Singapore are experiencing growth rates that exceed 20 percent annually.

Some of the developing countries have small domestic organic markets (e.g. Egypt) and have begun to seize the lucrative export opportunities presented by organic agriculture, FAO said. Some countries export tropical fruits to the European baby- food industry, six African nations export cotton to the European Community, Zimbabwe exports herbs to South Africa, China exports tea to the Netherlands and soybeans to Japan.

To enter the market of products from organic agriculture in industrialized countries is not easy for producers in developing countries, according to FAO. "Farmers are denied access to developed country organic markets for two to three years after beginning organic management since such countries will not certify land and livestock as organic before that time, arguing that it is necessary for the purging of chemical residues."

In most cases, farmers seeking to sell their products in developed countries must hire an organic certification organization to annually inspect and confirm that these farms adhere to the organic standards. These services can sometimes be expensive. Few developing countries have certification organizations within their borders, according to the report.

Many developing countries also lack the resources and training to participate in international standard setting regarding acceptable inputs for organic production and ingredients.

FAO said that domestic market opportunities for organic food could be exploited in developing countries as well. In China, for example, there is a growing market for "green food" which is produced without certain pesticides and fertilizers and with biological methods.

What makes organic agriculture unique, FAO said, is that almost all synthetic inputs are prohibited, and 'soil building' crop rotations are mandated. "Properly managed organic farming reduces or eliminates water pollution and helps conserve water and soil on the farm, although improper use of manure can seriously pollute water," the report said. Reduction in the use of toxic pesticides, which the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates poison 3 million people each year, should lead to improved health of farm families. Organic farming could contribute to the enhancement of sustainability and agro-biodiversity, but it should not be seen as an exclusive method for sustainable land use, FAO said.

Farmers converting to organic production will probably experience losses in yields, the report warned. In particular, "where soil fertility is low and biological processes have been seriously disrupted, it may take years to restore the ecosystem." In such cases other sustainable approaches, which allow judicious use of synthetic chemicals, may be more suitable start-up solutions.

FAO recommended that it would be most advantageous for farmers to participate in locally based, applied field research. "Experience with FAO-initiated Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Farmer Field Schools and community forestry projects has shown that farmers, whether owners or tenants, large or small, can practice good scientific methods if they are given orientation and technical support." In addition, the insights generated by organic farming in the search for site-specific production strategies can be of great benefit to the overall goal of sustainability.

To maintain consumer confidence in the integrity of organic products, countries should promote their own organic certification organizations and better enforce organic standards by "punishing those who engage in fraudulent activities as well as undertaking systematic tracking and measuring of fraud and its impact on the market."

The Committee on Agriculture is meeting in Rome from 25-29 January. Delegates from some 100 countries will discuss issues such as biotechnology, urban agriculture and the monitoring of land and freshwater resources.


The COAG documents are available on Internet:

For further information please contact Erwin Northoff, 0039-06-5705 3105, e-mail: Erwin.Northoff@FAO.Org

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