Updated October 1999

Organic agriculture and FAO

by Nadia Scialabba
Organic Agriculture Programme
FAO Environment and Natural Resources Service
email: nadia.scialabba@fao.org).
To be viewed in frames. Also available in French

Organic agriculture is an increasingly important part of the agriculture sector. Its environmental and economic benefits have captured the attention of many countries. Consumer demand for organically produced food and fibres products - and society's demand for more sustainable development - provide new opportunities for farmers and businesses around the world.

It also presents new challenges for FAO. In particular, member countries need advice and information on the potential of organic agriculture to contribute to sustainability in order to direct research, extension efforts, and tap national and international market opportunities.

Organic agriculture:

FAO has the responsibility to give organic agriculture a legitimate place within sustainable agriculture programmes and to assist member countries in their efforts to respond to farmer and consumer demand in this sector.

Collaboration with IFOAM

FAO held, from 19 to 20 March 1998, a brainstorming meeting with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) aimed at defining future FAO's involvement in organic agriculture and identifying potential areas of collaboration between FAO and IFOAM (see Conclusions and recommendations or download full report).

Subsequently, FAO participated in IFOAM's Scientific Conference in Mar del Plata, Argentina, 16-19 November 1998, and presented the document "Evaluating the potential contribution of organic agriculture to sustainability goals". Users may download the full document (Word 6.0 for Windows, zipped, 40K) or browse the following summary:

  1. Introduction
  2. Defining organic agriculture
  3. Growing interest in organic agriculture
  4. Evaluating the potential of organic agriculture:
  5. Summary and conclusions

FAO Committee on Agriculture

The FAO Committee on Agriculture met in Rome on 25-29 January 1999. It considered a position paper on Organic Agriculture, COAG/99/9 (see paper in English, French and Spanish), and provided guidance, in its Report (also in English, French, Spanish), on how FAO might best shape a coherent programme on organic agriculture. IFOAM presented a position document at this meeting.

Document COAG/99/9, approved by the Committee on Agriculture, represents the FAO position on organic agriculture. The document defines organic agriculture, according to the proposed FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius definition. It discusses the opportunities and constraints of organic agriculture from the perspectives of markets, farm productivity, and environmental impacts and sustainability.

It considers public policies that influence the adoption of organic agriculture. It proposes a cross-sectoral FAO programme in organic agriculture with several distinct functions, all aimed at enabling member countries to make informed choices about organic management.

Codex Alimentarius Commission

The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, the highest international body on food standards, met in Rome from 28 June to 3 July. The Commission adopted international "Guidelines for production, processing, labelling and marketing of organically produced foods" (downloadable here in PDF format in English, French and Spanish).

The standards clearly define the nature of organic food production and prevent claims that could mislead consumers about the quality of the product or the way it is produced. The final objective is to provide the consumer with a choice while giving assurances that organic agricultural standards have been met.

Organic Agriculture Programme

Following FAO governing bodies' recommendation to develop a cross-sectoral programme on organic agriculture, an inter-departmental working group has been established to initiate and implement activities. The organic agriculture programme collaborates and builds partnerships with interested institutions including national organic programmes or associations; NGOs such as the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM); and national and international research centres. Activities will focus on five main functions:

Information base

The Environment and Natural Resources Service (SDRN) is developing the information basis for organic agriculture. An annotated list of links to organic agriculture web sites has been compiled as well as a list of meetings related to organic agriculture.