Louise, you are the Executive Director of IFOAM – Organics International. What does the organisation do?
IFOAM – Organics International is the global umbrella organisation for organic agriculture. It was founded in 1972 to promote the exchange of information about suitable organic farming practices and to describe them. This then became a worldwide, private-law standard for organic farming.
Our members are national organic farming associations, like the BÖLW from Germany, many farmers’ organisations, but also commercial enterprises and university departments that deal with organic farming. Together we form a worldwide network.
We represent the interests of organic farmers and organic farming as a system at an international and global level. In discussions about the future of agriculture at the UN or the FAO, we show that organic farming is a sustainable model because it is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and because we also can generate a fair and good income. This is in contrast to many conventional agricultural practices, which are partly to blame for our inability to meet our climate targets.
How has organic farming developed so far?
A lot has happened worldwide in recent years. There are now 71.5 million hectares of certified organic land. However, this is only 1.5% of the total agricultural area and the situation varies greatly in the different countries. Austria, for example, already has a share of 25% organic land! In the Indian state of Sikkim, agriculture is 100% organic! These are examples from which we can learn and develop a feeling for what an “organic world” could look like. In terms of people, that means 2.8 million producers, most of whom live in countries of the global south.
In India alone, there are over 1.1 million farmers. However, Uganda and Ethiopia are also strongly featured in the organic survey (FiBL survey 2020). This is not to say that the organic products we eat here all come from India, but it shows how much income is involved. We should not forget that behind these figures are many families who can really improve their livelihoods through organic farming!
What makes farmers today decide to convert to organic farming?
There can be many factors. Many producers start looking for alternatives when they notice that their yields are decreasing over time. A pragmatic but convincing point is often that in organic farming, you simply have to buy fewer inputs. There are exciting calculations that show that the bottom line of organic farmers is very positive. And that is often decisive. In some cases they have the same yields after conversion, in others even more. But even if, they only have lower costs for inputs and are therefore less dependent, that is an important factor – also a mental one. However, there is also an inhibition threshold, because the farmers initially learned that many external inputs are necessary, and now they have to relearn. Organic farming is a craft and its practitioners continue to learn.
What do the organic and fair trade movements have in common? What connects them?
Many farmers are active in both the fair trade movement and the organic farming movement. In addition, many producers who have fair trade certification are either also certified organic or use organic farming practices. On an institutional level, IFOAM – Organics International is in very good contact with the Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) in Brussels and we work together on joint lobbying campaigns. I think both movements are very committed to responsible action for the future of the whole world.
The approaches are different, but the reasons and goals are actually the same. In organic farming as in fair trade, we notice that the general economic and legal framework today basically promotes the destruction of the earth. The fact is that polluting the environment, reducing biodiversity, etc. costs the polluters nothing. If one had to include the costs for the preparation of drinking water in the production of meat, the meat would definitely not be so cheap any more. So we need a framework that enables farmers to work in a way that does good. We are working on this at the global level and are in talks with the FAO.
And what should we pursue together more in the future?
We should show the connections more strongly! When we are active at the UN, for example, we talk to the FAO or to the climate department or to another department and we always move in specific areas. But what fair trade and organic show so well, is that all these areas are interrelated! We live in a holistic system in which one is dependent on the other and are mutually dependent.