In 1990 the Swiss Federal Research Station for Agricultural Chemistry and Hygiene of Environment (FAC) hosted and organized the first FAO/FAC Expert Consultation on Biological Farming in Europe in Bern, Switzerland from 30 September to 1 October, in collaboration with the FAO Regional Office for Europe (REU).
The 1993 Conference on "Nitrogen Leaching in Ecological Agriculture" in Copenhagen, Denmark, continued discussion on this specific topic. In 1994 the coordinators of the FAO Sustainable Rural Environment and Energy Network (SREN) of the European System of Cooperative Research Networks in Agriculture (ESCORENA)1 agreed on the creation of a regular working group for research cooperation in Organic Agriculture (OA) in Europe. Finally, in 1997 after a study2 commissioned to review the status and perspectives of research in organic farming in Europe, a round table expert meeting, held in the same year, with OA experts, SREN coordinators and members of the European Research Network Advisory Committee (ERNAC) created a new SREN Working Group: "Research Methodologies in Organic Farming".
The mandate of this Group is to improve collaboration for the harmonization of research methodologies applicable to the specific requirements of organic agriculture and thus foster the development of the scientific foundation of organic farming methods and strengthen the role of organic agriculture and its contribution to global food security and more sustainable agricultural practices. The invited presentations and discussion results of the first workshop of this SREN Working Group, which drew together over 60 researchers from 18 European countries and the USA, are presented in these proceedings.
The presentation to FAO colleagues of the above-mentioned 1997 study2 together with another 1997 study on the Potential Contribution of Organic Agriculture to Sustainability Goals3 and the FAO/IFOAM Brainstorming Meeting on Organic Agriculture (March 1998)4 spawned FAO in-house discussions on organic agriculture. This lead to the establishment of an internal electronic discussion group in 1998 and the creation of an FAO Inter-Departmental Working Group on Organic Agriculture in 1999.
The potential role of OA had already been recognized in the documents of the 1996 World Food Summit. In 1999 FAO's governing bodies, namely the Committee on Agriculture and the FAO Council, mandated the Organization to develop a cross-sectoral programme on organic agriculture5. Also in 1999 the Codex Alimentarius Commission endorsed the Guidelines on Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically-Produced Foods6.
These developments respond to increasing consumer interest in organically-produced food, food safety concerns and environmentally-conscious and cleaner agricultural production methods. The main drive of developing countries to convert to organic management is tap opportunities offered by northern organic markets and hence derive benefits that would contribute to overall food security.
For the consumer, OA offers an interesting alternative and an opportunity to contribute actively to a less polluting, more constructive and more conservatory stewardship of our natural resources. However, the rapid growth of OA in Europe (25 percent annual increase in organically cultivated area over the last ten years in EU Member Countries reaching 2.1 percent of all utilizable agricultural area by 1999, with up to 10 percent in some countries) presents new challenges to production methods. To adapt and integrate the distinctive environmental and social principles of the organic production methods also with the rapidly growing and changing processing and marketing demands, is a formidable challenge requiring active dialogue and much in-depth and interdisciplinary research. Network collaboration as in the exemplary ESCORENA system may be one of the useful tools in winning this challenge. It is foreseeable that in this sense, successful development of the organic sector which is hitherto solidly based on sustainable principles, can make positive contributions to the global development of more sustainable agriculture and a more sustainable life quality as a whole.
The much appreciated, very generous support from the Swiss Development Agency and the excellent organization by the "Research Institute for Organic Agriculture" (FiBL), greatly contributed to the success of this SREN Workshop. It is hoped that the enthusiasm and the many new initiatives continue to grow in order to bring together the most active researchers in the field and to share knowledge and information between the different regions in Europe and eventually beyond the European boundaries.
Regional Representative for Europe
1 European System of Cooperative Research Networks in Agriculture, see www.fao.org/regional/europe/activ-e.htm
2 Els Wynen, "Research on Biological Farming Methods in Europe, Perspectives, Status and Requirements" published in "Biological Farming Research in Europe", REU Technical Series 54 (1997) available in hardcopy and electronically at www.fao.org/regional/europe/Public-e.htm
3 An edited version of this study can be found at: www.fao.org/organicag/doc/organic.doc
4 For a report on the meeting see: www.fao.org/organicag/doc/Ifoammtg.doc
5 www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/X0075e.htm and www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/x1551e.htm#P301_34771
6 ftp.fao.org/codex/standard/organic/gl99_32e.pdf; more information on OA activities in FAO can be obtained from www.fao.org/organicag/default.htm