The first initiatives in developed countries were taken by groups of farmers (e.g. Sweden, USA in the early to mid 1970s), and in developing countries by NGOs and farmers together (e.g. the Philippines,Thailand, and Southeast Brazil in the early1980s). The early groups and associations of organic farmers were engaged in capacity building, policy making, marketing, and certification, and became increasingly important actors. The most successful initiatives were organized and operated regionally. The alliances in the early stage often included consumers and/or market actors (e.g. Sweden, USA). The market-orientation of these farmers groups and organizations, combined with their philosophical and political agenda, was important for the development.
NGOs supporting and assisting organic farmers often originated from church or development organizations and have been particularly important in developing countries. They have promoted organic agriculture in the first place as an appropriate technology for small-scale farmers, emphasizing low use of external inputs, independence from agri-business, and care for natural resources as well as the potential for food security and economical viability. Many NGOs have also initiated marketing activities, including small-scale processing, to include economic sustainability in their strategies for agricultural development. NGOs involved in environment and health have also played a role to some extent.
Private entrepreneurs/traders in some countries have played a crucial role in early organic development. In most developing countries they have been engaged in exports, while in e.g. the Sweden and USA they pioneered the development of the domestic market. The private companies getting involved in organic markets in developing countries represent a mix of small pioneer organic companies and larger, often multinational, companies (e.g. Thailand).
Exporters/importers have been influential actors in some countries’ early development, (e.g. Turkey, Serbia, and Uganda and also in Italy in the beginning). The importer obtains organic products to be marketed mainly in Europe, the USA and Japan, deciding the terms for the exporter or for groups of producers. There also are examples where early importing companies invested a lot in assisting the farmers in production and marketing (e.g. Turkey).
Consumers were a driving force behind the early expansion of marketing and production. They were early actors in setting up CSAs and home deliveries (e.g. Teikei in Japan and ‘food fronts’ in Sweden in the 1970s). Consumers can also have a strong impact on national and local policy.
Universities: In a few countries (e.g. China and Serbia) the drive to develop organic agriculture has emanated from universities and similar institutions, while in most countries the research establishment has been firmly against organic production, which was seen as (and sometimes is) a challenge to the research establishment.
Certification bodies: Local, national, and foreign certification bodies were part of the early organic movement (e.g. the USA in the mid 1970s, Sweden in the early 1980s, Italy in the mid 1980s, and Southeast Brazil in the late 1980s). Organic farming took off with the creation of a functioning and trustworthy certification system. The certification bodies’ work with the standards has been to concretize the definition of organic agriculture as such, laying a common ground for the whole organic sector. It has therefore been important for many different stakeholders, not least the farmers’ organizations, to participate in standard development. The early certification bodies were more a part of the organic movement, often part of or controlled by organic associations, than are the commercial companies that now are common.
IFOAM and other international networks: International contacts and cooperation has inspired organic development in many countries throughout the world, building a common ground and providing a voice for the organic movement. To be part of IFOAM has strengthened the capacity of the organic sector worldwide in standard setting, certification, and agricultural policymaking and lobbying. The contact with IFOAM helped the movements to organize and coordinate in a positive way through regional or national networks.
Similarly, for the Latin American organic movement the network MAELA (Movimiento Agro-Ecológico de Latino-America) has been a strong platform for the development of the organic sector, not least in lobbying and policy issues. Other international or regional networks that have played a role are Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and Pelum in Africa. Also worth mentioning is the north-south cooperation between NGOs based in the North with member organizations in developing countries. One such partnership is the network Future Earth, based in Sweden, where Swedish groups/NGOs cooperate in concept building and practical project support with groups/NGOs in third world countries.
Institutions such as UNCTAD, FAO, World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, development cooperation agencies, and religious institutions have contributed to the acceptance of organic in developing countries’ early stage of organic development, while they played no role in developed countries. However, in few of these institutions is organic acknowledged as a main strategy for agriculture development; it is seen more as a tool to accomplish certain limited development goals, such as increased income or protection of biodiversity.
Individual pioneers: Devoted individual enthusiasts were crucial for the start of the organic sector worldwide. Real change often occurs not only from the work of organizations or events in the market and the policy sector, but also from an adequate mix of interested people together with a common will to change. To remind us of the importance of these pioneers, a few have a voice in this study.
Women: Compared with conventional agriculture, women have played a more important role in the development of organic agriculture and the organic sector organizations. It is often the woman in the farm household who initiates the process of conversion to organic. All over the world women are taking leading roles in the development of organic, as farmers, consumers, researchers, traders, and advisors, or in the organization of the organic sector (e.g. Southeast Brazil, Sweden, Thailand, USA).
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