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Points of View
Organic farming

The organic food market is growing rapidly; The UK's Soil Association estimates that demand in the UK for organic food is growing by over 40% per annum and much of Europe is following the same trend. Is this a heaven sent opportunity for growers in developing countries? Lower cost production, safer working conditions, less risk to the environment - and a growing market - who could wish for anything more? But organic production usually results in lower yields and higher priced produce - not a route that brings greater food security to the poor. Furthermore, non-organic production should also be safe to farm workers, the environment and to consumers. For exporting growers, lower costs of production may be offset by the high cost of obtaining internationally accepted organic certification. For growers supplying local markets, 'organic' may not attract the premium price that justifies the extra work involved on farm. So is organic farming for a select few? Here are some points of view.


Increasingly, the sceptism about the role organic technologies can play in improving farming systems has given way to recognition of the benefits, particularly in poverty alleviation for small-scale, low-income farmers. There is no doubt over the need for more research and greater dissemination of information… We (HDRA) recognize that organic farming by strict standards for certification may not be directly applicable in the context of some of the countries concerned. We therefore seek to support, promote and develop agriculture systems which use a range of techniques for sustainable land-use, with the long term aim of seeing this achieved through the adoption of organic land-use.
Esther Roycroft Boswell, Overseas Advisory Co-ordinator, HDRA in Landmark Sept/Oct 2000

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"I farm commercially therefore I have to earn my living from farming but I hope to earn enough to also protect and enhance the environment in any way I can. And I have planted a lot of trees, I look after hedges, I've planted new hedges, I've tried to protect field boundaries to encourage wildlife and I try to organize my cropping in such a way that it also helps wildlife."
Peter Fairs, UK Farmer recorded in BBC World Service 'The Farming World'

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"The one thing that has really attracted me to organic farming is that we're not doing that as a bolt-on extra. It's very much an integral part of the farming system, and it's inherently good for wildlife because we don't spray anything. You're not just leaving a management headland, you're leaving a whole arable field that is unsprayed. And a lot of the things that we have to do, like farming in rotation, leaving stubble over the winter because we're moving into a lot more spring cropping, undersowing - all these techniques are the ones that actually did give us such a diverse countryside 50 or 100 years ago."
Helen Browning, UK Farmer recorded in BBC World Service 'The Farming World'

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"I think we've all got to learn a bit from each other but I think it's a pity if we've got to throw away 50 years of scientific advancement and go back to a system that we had 50 years ago - why throw those things away? Let's take their knowledge, let's use that knowledge to advance yields. Because, let's be honest - even organic farmers are making use of some of that scientific knowledge in terms of crop breeding and so on. So let's try to learn from each other a little bit and I think there is a place for both of us. If organic farmers can get the higher market price at the moment by finding a niche market then full marks to them but I still think the long-term way ahead for the majority of farmers will be using scientific knowledge."
Peter Fairs, UK Farmer recorded in BBC World Service 'The Farming World'

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"I think that this idea that organic is anti-science is fundamentally wrong. What we are trying to do is to take the best of traditional methods, tried and tested methods, and to combine that with the best of modern science. What we are doing is actually screening new technologies to make sure that they are appropriate, that they are taking us down the road that we need to go down today. That's one of the reasons why we have been so fundamentally opposed to genetic engineering because it is taking us further down, potentially, the wrong road. However, we need to find new technologies and there are a lot of new technologies that organic farmers are taking on board - our yields now are two or three times higher than they would have been 50 years ago because of advances in plant breeding, in mechanization - many of these things have aided the organic sector as well and that's quite right and proper. We need an agriculture that is modern, that blends the best of the old with the best of the new to take us into the next century and that's really what organic is aiming to be.
Helen Browning, UK Farmer recorded in BBC World Service 'The Farming World'

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Organic food excludes pesticides, hydrogenated fats, phosphoric acid, artificial additives, GMOs, BSE, BST and other hormones, or antibiotics, all of which constitute substantial and proven health risks to consumers. Pathogens, such as E.Coli, salmonella and listeria are all rare or non-existent in most organic products while continuing to constitute a growing risk in non-organic food… Organic food producers take responsibility for hygiene and food quality and the result is food that is safe to eat and far less likely to produce short term or chronic long term health problems.
Craig Sams, President - Whole Earth Foods, London in Landmark Sept/Oct 2000

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I am not against organic farming but I do object to the way they try to pretend that the organic label means the produce is somehow superior. I try to make it clear that organic farming is just another method of production. It does not guarantee that anything is better and it is wrong to try and scare people about the safety of conventional food. To say organic food is purer than conventional food is going too far.
Geoffrey Hollis, former Ministry of Agriculture official, quoted in The Times, Oct 7th 2000

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Organic agriculture is based on a concept where you try and work as much as possible with nature and try to utilize natural things occurring in nature and integrate them in a productive farming system. For many people, it is identified by the non-use of chemicals, agri-chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, but that's only a small portion of it. We want to emphasize the need for having good crop rotations, nutrient recycling, composting, erosion control, good water management etc. But we will have a little different setting in different countries.
Gunnar Rundgren, Grolink, Sweden, recorded in BBC World Service 'The Farming World'

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While some organic farming has environmental benefits, over-use of organic fertilisers (manure) can also lead to nitrogenous pollution, while any farming system, properly managed can achieve the same environmental benefits that organic farming aims for.
Robin Young writing in The Times Oct 7th 2000

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A lot of work is showing that in the developing world yields are increasing substantially beyond what we are able to do using conventional, green revolution techniques. Soil fertility, water-holding capacity is the key and you can only really do that through looking after the ground and that's where organic farming starts.
Helen Browning recorded in BBC Farming World

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There is only one way to prove to a consumer, that doesn't know you and lives far away from your farm, that you are organic and this is the organic certification system. Like it or not, you need it. But when an outsider comes to inspect your farm, and you are paying a fee - a lot - to prove you are organic, it doesn't feel so good!
Pedro A. Landa, Cattle farmer, Argentina recorded in the BBC Farming World

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This is the feeling of a producer, when somebody came outside of your farm, you are paying a fee, you are paying a lot of things to prove you are organic and you feel that you are organic and you know that you are organic, so you don't feel pretty good. But it is a system and there is only way to prove to a consumer that doesn't know you and lives far away from you farm that you are organic. And this is the organic certification system, and like it or not, you need it.
Pedro A. Landa, Cattle farmer, Argentina recorded in the BBC Farming World

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Even if the high cost of certification can be funded by aid agenices and importers until a scheme becomes viable, third world farmers are still facing a system that is biased against them. It is difficult enough in Europe dealing with bureacrats who think that the most important skill an organic farmer needs is the ability to keep records. In developing countries this problem is compounded by low literacy, access to writing materials and somewhere to store them safely.
John Myers, inspector of organic agriculture (mostly in Africa) writing in Landmark Nov/Dec 2000

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Prices for organic products are approximately double that of their conventional counterparts, but this is not always enough to make up for lower yields and increased costs.
Peter Seem writing in 'Cornell entomologists help fight apple pests organically'

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Organic agriculture is a long-term affair but few farmers can wait the two to three years needed for removing chemical residues from their land, for recycling vegetable and animal wastes and for setting up crop rotation systems. Furthermore, tenant farmers are not keen to switch over to organic methods if they are unsure of having access to the land in years to come, when the advantages of organic production will have become tangible.
Spore Feb 2000 'Organic agriculture - back to the future?'

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Organic agriculture would never be able to feed the world's growing population. It remains a fact that 800 million people are starving, and many are dying of hunger despite the green revolution and increase in the use of agrochemicals over the last four decades. But the answer to the question: "Who will feed the world?" is that it will not be organic farming nor gene-technology or the chemical industry - it will always be the farmers and the smallholders and home gardeners who have this responsibility.
Dr N B Prakash "Organics for healthy soil" Far Eastern Agriculture, July/August 2000

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It is absolutely impossible to penetrate the UK or European markets. The restrictions imposed on the poor peasant farmers in Uganda are actually created by a number of middlemen who operate between the demand-led sector of the supermarkets in the UK and the producer in Uganda or Kenya.
Vikash Tandon, Pioneer Agricultural Exchange, Uganda

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It is ironic and the solution to it is to enable countries such as Uganda to develop their own independent inspection and certification organizations, something we have the expertise to provide them with. The move now ought to be to recognize the needs of developing countries to support sustainable agriculture and get in involved in the export of organic certification to developing countries thereby enabling them to achieve the kind of trading self-sufficiency that they urgently need and deserve.
Patrick Holden, Director, Soil Association

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The solution is to enable countries such as Uganda to develop their own independent inspection and certification organizations, something we have the expertise to provide them with. The move now ought to be to recognize the needs of developing countries to support sustainable agriculture and get involved in the export of organic certification to developing countries thereby enabling them to achieve the kind of trading self-sufficiency that they urgently need and deserve.
Patrick Holden, Director, Soil Association

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The local system has more advantages than just reducing the cost; it should result in a better system…..the local body would be able to develop more appropriate local standards. The EU Regulation requires equivalent, not identical standards. So some inappropriate inputs may be prohibited whilst others, not presently permitted by EU Regulation, may be allowed. The local certification system is also more likely to lead to the development of a local organic market.
John Myers, inspector of organic agriculture (mostly in Africa) writing in Landmark Nov/Dec 2000

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