Position on the full diversity of Organic Agriculture
December 30, 2004
Organic Agriculture is often perceived as only referring to certified Organic Agriculture. The aim of this position paper is to make clear that IFOAM’s view of Organic Agriculture goes far beyond certification. IFOAM’s mission embraces the ‘worldwide adoption’ of Organic Agriculture ‘in its full diversity’. Part of the full diversity of Organic Agriculture worldwide is non-certified Organic Agriculture. To spread this message, please download and print the information sheets summarizing the position.
Any system using the methods of Organic Agriculture and being based on
the Principles of Organic Agriculture is regarded by IFOAM as ‘Organic
Agriculture’ and any farmer practicing such system can be called an
Organic Agriculture brings valuable contributions to the farmer and to
the society outside the market place. IFOAM supports the adoption of
Organic Agriculture regardless of whether the products are marketed as
organic or not.
IFOAM regards third party certification as a reliable tool for
guaranteeing the organic status of a product, and one that appears to
be most relevant in an anonymous market. IFOAM has developed a
comprehensive system of Norms and an accreditation programme to
promote and develop reliable third party certification. But IFOAM does
not see this as ‘universal’ and not the only tool to describe organic
Apart from third party certification there are other methods of organic
quality assurance for the market place. These can be in the form of
self-declarations or participatory guarantee systems. There are also
situations where the relation between the consumer and the producers
are strong enough to serve as a sufficient trust building mechanism,
and no particular other verification is needed.
Some more background to the position is given below:
Different farmers, different circumstances, different markets…
…different scenarios and different solutions!
Third Party Certification
When organic farmers are operating in an anonymous market,
certification has been developed to show and guarantee to the consumers
that a product has been produced in an organic way according to organic
standards. Certification is the formal and documented procedure by
which a third party assures that the organic standards are followed.
Certification leads to consumers’ trust in the organic production
system and the products. Certification gives organic farming a distinct
identity and credibility and makes market access easier. Certification
can also be used as a tool for defining groups eligible for support
programs, e.g. government support.
IFOAM believes that third party certification needs to be adapted to
local conditions. One such adaptation is Smallholder Group
Certification. Here, several small-scale farmers with similar farming
practices who market collectively can be certified together. The
farmers set up an Internal Control System (ICS) meaning that internal
“inspectors” inspect every farm, whereas the certification body audits
the ICS. This includes visits to a specified number of farms and an
evaluation of the functioning of the ICS.
Participatory Guarantee system
There are non-certified initiatives using their own written standards,
often based on IFOAM standards. In many cases they also comprise a
verification component. The methods include relying on affidavits or
producers’ statements, seals from farmers or consumers’ organizations
or the guarantee provided by the name of a company or shop. In many of
the systems there is an active verification component, carried out by
the farmers themselves or specially appointed staff or committees.
These systems are mostly flexible and emphasize a learning process .
IFOAM sees a potential in these participatory systems and has embarked
on a process for capacity building and further development of such
systems. It is in their nature that they are localized and diverse, so
while some general principles can be agreed upon they are not
standardized to the same extent as third party certification.
Direct farmer-consumer relationships
When there is a direct contact between the farmer and the consumer,
trust can often be maintained without any systematic verification
mechanism. In its simplest form this is represented by direct sales at
the farm-gate or in farmers’ markets. More complex situations are
represented by Box Schemes, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and
Teikei (this last term being used in Japan). CSA and Teikei are
partnerships of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of
supporters that provide a direct link between the production and
consumption of food. Supporters cover a farm’s yearly operating budget
by purchasing a share of the season’s harvest and in some cases they
assist with the farm work. Sometimes members help pay for seeds, water,
equipment maintenance, labour, etc. In return, the farm provides, to
the best of its ability, a healthy supply of seasonal fresh produce.
Informal or Non-certified
There are organic farmers for whom certification does not have any
advantages: this is true for farmers who practice subsistence farming,
basically catering for the food security of their families or their
community. It is also true for farmers who want to sell their produce
as organic, where a demand for organic products does not exist in their
region or where the intermediary or processor does not want to handle
organic products. There are also farmers that reject certification on
principal or economic grounds.
Recognizing that it is not certification that defines organic, and also
that the situation for farmers is not equal and not static, i.e. they
may first be non-certified, then want to participate in a certified
system, IFOAM sees a need to find solutions flexible enough to allow
farmers to ‘move’ from one system to another; or in other words how
products from a Participatory Guarantee System can move into the market
for third party certified products. Those solutions are not yet
Finally organic farming is increasingly delivering environmental
services to society and it is yet to be seen which tools are most
appropriate for verification of those services.
In principle adopted by IFOAM WB 0409, Seattle
Finally adopted by IFOAM EB 0412