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Synthesis: prospects for organic agriculture in a global context


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Halberg, Niels; Alrøe, Hugo Fjelsted and Kristensen, Erik Steen (2006) Synthesis: prospects for organic agriculture in a global context. In: Halberg, Niels; Alrøe, Hugo Fjelsted; Knudsen, Marie Trydeman and Kristensen, Erik Steen (Eds.) Global Development of Organic Agriculture: Challenges and Prospects. CABI Publishing, chapter 12, pp. 343-367.

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As discussed by Knudsen et al. (Chapter 1) there is a rapid development in the global food chains towards increased trade and competition over long distances and very large corporate retail chains taking control over large parts of food trade. This global competition leads to a downward price pressure and demands for large volumes, standardisation, specialisation and high production efficiency and productivity for agricultural systems all over the world.
This industrialisation of the agricultural sector leads to increased externalities in terms of emissions of nutrients and pesticides, loss of biodiversity and reduced animal welfare. Moreover, even though food production has increased significantly over the last decades and most countries engage in the global food trade, there are still ¾ billion food-insecure people globally many of who live in countries with net food exports. Add to this the fact that some regions like Europe have a surplus of food production based on high level of subsidies. Some of this surplus is being dumped at foreign markets at prices, which the local producers cannot compete with, leading to unfair pressure on local farming systems.
Organic agriculture is an alternative, which builds on a non-industrialized understanding of the relationship between food production and nature. Organic farming therefore has a potential for a more sustainable development. However, challenges from global trade with organic products may also threaten the sustainability in organic agriculture and threaten to dilute some of its basic principles and ideas and the benefits that it holds. Trade in organic food across continents is increasing and organic products from developing countries like Brazil, Egypt and Uganda are being exported to e.g. Europe. Increasingly governments in developing countries are creating conditions in support of organic export (Scialabba & Hattam, 2002). Moreover, agricultural development organisations such as IFAD (Ifad, 2002; Giovannucci, 2005), FAO and NGO's are becoming open to the idea that OA should be considered as one beneficial development pathway for smallholder farmers.
The increased globalisation is a consequence of the general political and economical development in the world, which has both positive and negative socio-economic effects and there are no simple solutions to avoid the negative effects in the agricultural sector. However, through increased knowledge and understanding of these complex relationships we hope that it may be possible to point out more sustainable pathways and – in this context – to better define the potential role of organic agriculture.
As described in the preface, the work that led to this book was initiated by five questions. We can now, on the basis of the work, synthesize these to two key questions, namely:
1. How may certified organic farming meet the challenges of the increased globalisation of organic food chains in order to offer a significant alternative to mainstream food production in the future?
2. What promises and solutions do certified and non-certified organic agriculture offer to general sustainability problems in the global food system and to the improvement of smallholder farmers' livelihood in developing countries?
The two strands of organic agriculture, certified and non-certified, face very different challenges and offers different opportunities. "Non-certified organic agriculture" is characterised by the same agro-ecological principles as certified organic agriculture, and therefore results in the same benefits for soil fertility etc. But the production is consumed locally and not based on market premiums; the costs of certification do not apply; and the practice is governed by other means than organic certifiers. The present chapter gives an overview and synthesis of the previous chapters, treating the two key questions in turn in the two main sections of this chapter. In accordance with the book title we first discuss the challenges and then the promises, since the future promises of organic agriculture will depend very much on how the present challenges are met. The book presents a rich picture of different perspectives on the questions and different ways to address them. Wanting to synthesize this rich picture, it seems clear that no homogeneous message can be found. In order to provide a fair treatment of the above questions, we therefore need to work consciously with the range of perspectives in the book. This is the subject of the following section.

EPrint Type:Book chapter
Keywords:Perspectives; organic agriculture; global context
Subjects:"Organics" in general
Research affiliation: Denmark > DARCOF II (2000-2005) > V.1 (SYNERGY) Coordination and synergy
Related Links:http://ecowiki.org/GlobalPerspective/HomePage
Deposited By: Hansen, Grethe
ID Code:6277
Deposited On:14 Nov 2005
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:31
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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