Specials Environment

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)

Meeting on organic agriculture:
conclusions and recommendations

FAO, Rome
19-20 March 1998

IT IS TO BE STRESSED that the implementation of the recommendations is subject to availability of funds, although many could start without particular implications on current financial allocations. The recommendations fall into five broad categories of FAO's type of intervention, namely: information services, normative studies, policy advice, field projects, and liaison and consultation. The recommendations below are not prioritised but the need to focus on activities that generate an improved information basis was unanimously stressed by the meeting.

Information services

Although standards setting for organic agriculture is voluntary, countries require technical information and knowledge that FAO is in the best position to provide.

FAO could assist IFOAM's efforts by preparing handbooks on organic agriculture approaches and methods, namely by creating a series targeting farmers that is translated into local languages.

The FAO proposal for establishing an information system on organic agriculture, similar to the E-mail ESC dairy outlook was welcomed. Through this system, the collection and analysis of statistics related to organic agriculture production and trade offers great benefits. Such a system would also serve as a networking vehicle for field workers interested in organic agriculture.

The work initiated by the David Lubin Library in collecting organic agriculture documentation was commended. It was recommended that proper key words be established to facilitate information searches on this subject.

IFOAM recommended that FAO/TCDN considers dedicating a special issue of DEEP (a liaison bulletin produced by NGLS) to organic agriculture, especially since DEEP targets the NGO and grassroot community.

Normative studies

Among the technical issues discussed, overall nutrient and energy balance was the main concern for FAO staff. In-depth investigations were felt necessary for means of sourcing organic matter and minerals in different agro-ecological settings, especially as regards on-farm availability and use.

It was suggested that strategies be devised for conditions where conflicting and competitive demands are put on organic matter.

The adoption of organic and integrated pest management practices was recognised as being hindered by macro-policy factors that deserved to be evaluated.

FAO expressed interest in collaborating with IFOAM on post-harvest methods, techniques and standards. It was recommended that organic agriculture not be limited to the farmgate.

It was recommended that, for evaluating socio-economic sustainability, indicators be developed for fossil fuel use and labour dynamics. In addition, SDRR work on institutional sustainability was found helpful in developing related sustainability indicators and criteria for organic agriculture systems.

In order to clarify the debate on food security and the potential contribution of organic agriculture to respond to increased food needs, it was recommended that studies be made in various agro-ecological regions of developing countries, especially to establish the conditions where organic agriculture is viable. A first study should focus on tropical areas where there are difficulties in maintaining soil fertility.

It was agreed that FAO and IFOAM should work together to refine organic agriculture standards, according to different agro-ecosystems and cultures. In particular, it was recommended that the option of developing cropping protocols through case studies be investigated.

Policy advice

The position of FAO was recognized as being of key importance to promote research for organic agriculture, especially as regards production and post-production technologies for local crops and animals.

In its advisory role to Governments, FAO should develop normative work that assists countries in undertaking risk assessment before developing or using new agricultural technologies. To this end, countries should be encouraged to adopt a proactive approach, based on precaution and prevention.

FAO would be in an ideal position to create, through the provision of information, the conditions to discuss ethics of agro-industry. Within its mandate, FAO could function as a platform where pros and cons of different agricultural alternatives are evaluated.

With a view to inviting independent advice, it was suggested that FAO establish an Expert Panel on organic agriculture, perhaps following the example of the IPM Panel established in the 70s-80s.

Field projects

Because the dearth of data was found to be the main constraint for evaluating organic agriculture viability, establishing priorities in policy decision, research, extension, training, and defining the contribution of organic agriculture to food security and environmental sustainability, the meeting agreed that data collection and analysis for all types of farming systems was an essential starting point. Project 1 of the IFOAM's Organic Agriculture until 1999 (OA '99) Programme is an ideal means for FAO to start collaboration in this field. Within FAO, the following Services expressed interest in participating in this project: AGSP, AGP, ESA, TCI, and SDRN. An internal working group will be constituted to examine the project document (distributed at the meeting) and consider areas of involvement in its second phase (starting in June 1998).

The FAO Farmers Field Schools (FFS) approach was found to have great similarities with IFOAM's promotion of in-situ research for organic agriculture. It was agreed that joint pilot FFS be established in selected developing countries, by building on IFOAM existing training centres. Again, IFOAM's OA' 99 Project 6 on "Education and Training" could serve as a starting point for such activities.

Because certification costs are prohibitive for many developing countries, especially for small farmers, FAO and IFOAM could work together to build local certifying capacities.

FAO should consider providing technical assistance to small farmers in tapping niche-markets for their organic commodities.

Liaison and consultation

With a view to strengthening IFOAM's participation in FAO activities, it was recommended that a few key members of IFOAM be included in the internal FAO E-mail network on organic agriculture.

It would be desirable to identify FAO contact points for each of the specific areas of expertise required for organic agriculture.

IFOAM expressed interest in participating in FAO's current efforts in preparing a document on organic agriculture, to be presented to the Committee on Agriculture (January 1999) and other documents for the Second Den Bosch Conference on Agriculture and the Environment (tentatively scheduled for October 1999) and the Commission on Sustainable Development (2000).

IFOAM would welcome FAO's consideration of its members field experts within the Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC) and Academic Agreement Schemes.

Summary of potential cooperation
Subject areas
(main FAO Services involved)
(not prioritized)
Sustainable farming systems
1. Collect and analyse data through OA'99 Project 1
2. Establish indicators for labour and energy
3. Develop guidelines for technology evaluation and risk assessment
4. Select best management practices
5. Study potential and constraints of OA in different agro-ecological regions (starting by tropical climates)
Input management
6. Investigate similarities of IPNS and OA in integrated soil and nutrient management
7. Study nutrient and energy balance in different agro-ecological regions, especially in the tropics
8. Develop strategies for on-farm organic matter sourcing and use
9. Evaluate policy constraints to adoption of IPM and organic pest management
Research, extension & training
10. FFS pilot projects (follow-up to Project 6 of OA'99)
11. Education curricula development
12. Farmer Series on OA methods for TOT
13. Include OA in research agenda (e.g. local crops)
Standards & certification
14. Facilitate standards equivalence/harmonisation
15. Participate in revisions of Basic Standards and attend meetings of the Standard Committee
16. Find means to voice civil society concerns in the framework of the Codex Alimentarius
17. Build capacities of local certifiers
18. Develop crop protocols through selected case studies
19. Develop OA statistics on production and trade
20. Enhance FAO Library collection on OA documents (grey literature, key words, etc.)
21. Issue a special edition of DEEP on OA
22. Consult with IFOAM during preparation of OA papers (COAG, den Bosch 2, CSD 2000)
23. Provide the scientific basis for decision-making in standard setting (Codex and WTO) and biotechnology (GMOs)
24. Consider establishing an advisory Expert Panel on OA
25. Include IFOAM members in TCDC and AA schemes
26. Establish a general OA information service
27. Include selected IFOAM members on FAO internal E-mail network
28. Identify FAO contacts on specific OA themes

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