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Organic Farming and Agricultural Sustainability

Lampkin, N H (1999) Organic Farming and Agricultural Sustainability. In: Turner, S D and Alford, D (Eds.) Agriculture and the Environment: Challenges and conflicts for the new millenium, ADAS, Wolverhampton, pp. 146-154.

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Organic farming is increasingly recognised, by consumers, farmers, environmentalists and policy-makers, as one of a number of possible models for environmental, social and financial sustainability in agriculture. It has taken a long time to get this far. Organic farming’s roots can be traced back more than 100 years, to various individuals and movements concerned about soil conservation, pesticide use, resource use, animal welfare, land stewardship, nature conservation, diet, human health and social justice. Certified organic production dates back nearly 30 years (70 years in the case of Demeter-certified bio-dynamic production), with production standards reflecting the evolving priorities and objectives of organic farming. But the main role of organic production standards and certification has been to define a distinct market for the products, so that consumer willingness to pay for the benefits of organic farming can be harnessed to compensate producers for internalising external costs. As such, the market developed as a means to achieving the ethical objectives of organic farming, not an end in itself.
Recent years have seen very rapid growth in organic farming. In 1985, certified and policy-supported organic production accounted for just 100,000 ha in western Europe (EU and EFTA), or less than 0.1% of the total agricultural area. By the end of 1997, this figure had increased to 2.3 million ha, more than 1.6% of the total agricultural area (Foster and Lampkin, 1999). It is likely that by the end of 1998, nearly 3.0 million ha was managed organically, representing a 30-fold increase in 13 years. These figures hide great variability within and between countries. Several countries have now achieved 5-10% of their agricultural area managed organically, and in some cases more than 30% on a regional basis. Countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, and this year the UK, have seen the fastest rates of growth. But a number of others still languish below the 1% level. Alongside the increase in the supply base, the market for organic produce has also grown, but statistics on the overall size of the market for organic produce in Europe are still very limited. Recent estimates have placed the retail sales value of the European market for organic food at £3-5 billion in 1997.
70% of the expansion in the land area has taken place in the last five years, since the implementation in 1993 of EC Regulation 2092/91 defining organic crop production, and the widespread application of policies to support conversion to and continued organic farming as part of the agri-environment programme (EC Reg. 2078/92). The former has provided a secure basis for the agri-food sector to respond to the rapidly increasing demand for organic food across Europe. The latter has provided the financial basis to overcome perceived and real barriers to conversion.
Despite some obvious successes in terms of consumer demand and supply growth, many policy makers, academics and farming leaders are still uncertain about the potential contribution of organic farming to the future development of mainstream agriculture, and to sustainability issues in particular. Organic farming is considered by some to be too idealistic and restrictive. What is needed, they argue, is an intermediate approach, such as integrated crop management that is not as ‘extreme’ as organic farming and is therefore more likely to be acceptable to the majority of farmers. Policy-makers face a difficult choice. Should they encourage more organic farming, which may offer more environmental and other benefits than the intermediate approaches, but will only be adopted by a minority of farmers? Or should they encourage the intermediate approaches, which, although the environmental benefits are more limited, may be adopted by more farmers, with possibly greater overall impact? And if, contrary to expectations, organic farming did become widely adopted, how could we feed a growing global population? This paper seeks to address a number of these questions.

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Paper
Keywords:sustainability; growth; policy
Subjects: Food systems > Policy environments and social economy
"Organics" in general
Values, standards and certification
Research affiliation: UK > ADAS
UK > Univ. Aberystwyth > Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS)
Deposited By: Lampkin, Dr Nicolas
ID Code:11031
Deposited On:19 Jul 2007
Last Modified:12 Apr 2010 07:35
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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