Seventeenth Session

Rome, 31 March - 4 April 2003

Report of the Priority Area for Inter-disciplinary Action on Organic Agriculture

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

1. The 15th Session of COAG recommended that an organization-wide and cross-sectoral programme in organic agriculture be developed. The initial activities of this programme, coordinated by the Interdepartmental Working Group on Organic Agriculture (IDWG/ORGA), were reported upon to the 16th Session of COAG in 2001. The organic agriculture programme was subsequently approved in the Medium-Term Plan 2002-2007 as the Priority Area for Interdisciplinary Action on Organic Agriculture (PAIA/ORGA).

2. The PAIA/ORGA aims to enhance FAO support to all Member Nations in Organic Agriculture, especially to increase their capacity to effectively produce, store, process, inspect, certify and market organic foods and fibres.

II. Overview of Organic Agriculture Activities 2001-2002

3. Activities are presented below according to the three major thrusts of the PAIA/ORGA.


4. Coordination and partnerships. IDWG/ORGA coordinates FAO’s response to Member Nations, as well as information exchange and cooperation with UN agencies [including, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)], research institutions and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Coordination with donors is ensured through FAO’s participation in the annual German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) round tables, which serve to exchange information and establish partnerships among donors in the implementation of organic agriculture projects.

5. Support to country networks. FAO is providing the Secretariat for the European Inland Fisheries Advisory Commission Working Group on Organic Fish Farming, which organized a scoping Workshop in February 2002. The Regional Office for Europe continues to coordinate the working group of the European System of Cooperative Research Networks in Agriculture (ESCORENA) on Research Methodologies in Organic Farming, which now focuses on participatory research. Research on organic production and marketing has been included in several other ESCORENA networks (e.g. sheep and goats, and pasture and fodder crops networks). The Regional Office for the Near East is providing support to the League of Arab States in organizing a regional conference on organic agriculture in April 2003.

6. Dissemination of information. The organic agriculture programme activities and outputs are disseminated through the FAO corporate website ( Technical divisions’ websites include new information products such as the database on Organic Fertilisers and Water-Retaining Products ( and FAOLEX, the FAO legislative database with more than 150 legal texts of organic production from some 30 countries ( A public awareness folder, containing 18 fact sheets on the different facets of organic agriculture has been produced. At the national level, FAO is supporting the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Tradition, Bangalore, India, in the preparation of a newsletter on “Organic Production of Medicinal, Aromatic and Natural Dye Plants”.


7. Sustainable development. The publication "Organic Agriculture, Environment and Food Security", (FAO, Rome, 2002), explores the prospects for a wider adoption of organic agriculture, building on a large number of empirical experiences and the collective knowledge of experts and research institutions. “World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030” included, for the first time, an analysis of the possible developments in demand for, and production of, organic agriculture in support of sustainable agriculture. In collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Organic Farming, a draft “Methodology for Comparative Studies of Organic, Conventional and Traditional Farming Systems in Low Potential Areas” is currently being tested by the Deccan Development Society in India. This tool will be completed in May 2003.

8. Biodiversity. Five case studies were commissioned and 38 published case studies were reviewed to evaluate opportunities and constraints of organic agriculture on biological diversity in “Organic Agriculture in Protected Areas and Buffer Zones”, “Ecological Management in Agriculture” and “Organic Agriculture and Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture”. The latter was made available to the Ninth Regular Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which recommended that FAO “further studies the competitiveness of organic agriculture”.

9. Technical guidance for organic agriculture production chains. An electronic conference entitled “Organic recycling: on-farm composting methods” was held between May and December 2002. The Global Integrated Pest Management Facility initiative, called "Agricultural Conversion 2015: Detoxing Pest Management", is surveying Organic Pest Management (OPM) and various non/low toxic pest management products. To assist developing countries in establishing successful organic horticulture production systems, a meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur, 22-26 July 2002, to identify needs and develop technical guidelines for selected products (pineapple, citrus, mango). In cooperation with the New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research, guidelines have been produced on "Handling and Processing of Organic Fruits and Vegetables in Developing Countries".

10. Valorisation of grasslands. FAO sponsored the International Occasional Symposium of the European Grassland Federation on Organic Grassland Farming, Witzenhaussen, Germany, 10-12 July 2001. A book is being prepared on organic grasslands, including alternatives for certification in communal pasture systems for the Near East and North Africa. Guidelines are in preparation, in cooperation with the Governments of Jordan and Syria, on Organic Pasture Production in Arid and Semi-Arid Communal Rangelands.


11. Standards. The Codex Alimentarius guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods were revised in 2001 to include livestock and beekeeping provisions. The Codex Committee on Food Labelling has begun to revise the criteria for the List of Permitted Substances in the guidelines; a draft version of the criteria is now available, and should be finalised in 2003 at the next session of the Codex Alimentarius Committee.

12. Regulations. FAO sponsored, together with UNCTAD, the IFOAM Conference on International Harmonisation and Equivalence in Organic Agriculture, 17-19 February 2002, Nuremberg, Germany. This Conference provided a unique forum for dialogue between public and private institutions on regulations that govern organic agriculture. FAO’s role in the continuation of a process heading towards the harmonisation of organic regulations is a key factor to avoid potential trade barriers. A Task Force was proposed to develop further work.

13. Certification. The Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean is involved, in collaboration with Ecocert, in an organic food certification programme. In 2001, a meeting was held in Chile on this issue, as well as an e-conference on "Food Certification Oriented to Quality Seals in Latin America" ( In 2002, national meetings were held in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and a training programme was done by Ecocert in Mercosur countries.

14. Improving organic guarantee systems. Legislation for organic agriculture is being reviewed to identify improvements that better assist Member Nations. A World Bank funded project is being implemented in Colombia to assist the Government in the development of the institutional and regulatory framework for organic agriculture. A Technical Cooperation Project on organic agriculture has been approved for Tunisia and another one is in the pipeline for Croatia. Different certification and labelling schemes (i.e. forest stewardship, fair trade, ethical, organic) applied to non-wood forest products are being reviewed through pilot case studies in Bolivia, Ghana, Mali, Namibia and Vietnam in order to assess their impact on the sustainable use of non-wood forest products.

15. Marketing and trade. A major market study of nineteen countries was published as “World Markets for Organic Fruit and Vegetables” and presented at a conference on “Supporting the Diversification of Exports in the Caribbean/Latin American Region through the Development of Organic Horticulture”, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 8-10 October 2001. Similar conferences will be held for the Asia and Pacific Region (Bangkok, 3-5 November 2003) and Africa.

16. Issue papers or meetings on specific organic commodities are prepared in conjunction of regular intergovernmental commodity groups. A symposium was held on “Organic Markets for Meat and Dairy Products: Trade Opportunities for Developing Countries”, Rome, 29 August 2002. An FAO facilitated ad hoc working group on Socially and Environmentally Responsible Horticulture Production and Trade was held in San Josť, Costa Rica, 10-11 December 2001. Studies have been carried out on the costs and benefits of sustainable production, which include -among others- organic coffee and citrus. The feasibility of organic tea in China and India has been assessed for the Consultative Committee meeting in January 2003. Papers on “Economic and financial comparison of organic and conventional citrus growing systems in Spain” and on the “Markets for Organic Citrus Fruits and Citrus Juices” have been prepared for the 2003 meeting of the Intergovernmental Group on Citrus Fruits.

III. The Way Forward

17. Requests for technical information and assistance in organic agriculture have grown beyond regular programme resources available to FAO. Organic agriculture is location-specific, grassroot-based and requires substantial knowledge-building, especially among smallholders in developing countries. Both public and private sectors allocate few resources to organic agriculture but great progress can be made with relatively a small amount of funding. With a view to establish a trust fund on organic agriculture, a Programme Proposal on Organic Agriculture (ref. G.28929) was prepared by FAO in October 2001 for donors' consideration.

18. The growth of organic agriculture trade and the proliferation of regulations and requirements to enter international markets confront countries with increasing difficulties and high compliance costs. FAO has a comparative advantage in providing a forum for public-private discussions that explore possible models of equivalency of organic standards, inspection, certification and accreditation in organic agriculture. It is intended to establish a joint FAO/UNCTAD/IFOAM Task Force on Equivalency of Organic Guarantee Systems that will be composed of government experts and private sector representatives.