|US Organization, Structure, and Lessons Learned; Case Studies for Organic Agricultural Development|
Organization and structure of the organic sector
The organic sector in the US evolved from scattered initiatives into a strong national movement with common goals while maintaining strong regional organizations that provide organic advocacy, education, and promotion and build the capacity of the organic sector. OFPANA and OCIA International, both established in the 1980s, were the first nationally organized organic associations. OFPANA, which became the non-profit corporation Organic Trade Association (OTA), never provided certification services but instead focused on creating a national movement that could bring a unified voice for the organic sector to governments and the public. OTA’s dual purpose is to promote organic trade and protect the integrity of organic standards and label claims.
Many stakeholders have been involved in the organic sector. There are organizations of organic farmers, organic processors and handlers, retailers, consumers, and environmental activists. There are organizations that represent the organic certification agencies, both public and private. There are sustainable agriculture organizations with wide-ranging interests including rural development, family farms, reduced pesticide use, fair trade, organic, and more. There are conventional trade associations and farm organizations. There are scientific and research organizations and universities. There are organizations that want to change the government, society, or economic structures.
The variety of organizations and individuals involved in the organic sector provides a richness, diversity and vitality that has sustained and grown the organic sector. But it also creates a complex network that often is unorganized and uninformed about all the actions and positions being taken in the organic sector. The variety of stakeholders has given the organic sector strength to overcome obstacles in government, public opinion, and mainstream businesses. At the same time differences among the stakeholders contribute to public debates about the organic sector that negatively impact its influence and growth. Organic farming has been a secondary interest to many of these organizations and has been used as political or marketing tool. Environmental groups and sustainable agriculture organizations have kept some distance from organic because they did not have the confidence that organic could be successful on a large scale, and their private sector funders are reluctant to support organic-only initiatives.
The organic sector was first driven by farmers, then by certification organizations, then by the market, and now by consumers. In the course of this evolution there has been a loss of understanding of organic as an agricultural production system. There has been a shift to demands for product guarantees rather than a process guarantee, and a shift away from the environmental and public health benefits of organic production and towards the personal health benefits.
Supporting structures: Research, education, extension In the early period the farmer organizations (CCOF, Tilth, OCIA, NOFA) and the Rodale Institute provided all the education, information, and capacity building to the organic sector. As new regional organic organizations were formed in the 1980s they, too, provided these services, funded by private sector foundations and wealthy individuals. Organic product distributors and processors also contributed by providing information to farmers.
Washington State University and University of California were among the first academic institutions to support research on organic farming methods because these states had established organic regulations. There are several universities today with dedicated organic agriculture programs, but even today less than 0.1% of academic research is related to organic agriculture. Most universities only considered organic under the larger umbrella of sustainable agriculture, which can include Integrated Pest Management and GMOs. OrganicAgInfo, created by public/private collaboration and funding, is a website for current, accurate, scientifically based or practically validated information about organic agriculture.
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) was founded in 1990 to raise money to support on-farm organic research; they have led the efforts nationally to raise awareness at the national and state level about the need for funding organic research and supporting capacity building for the organic sector. The Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) was founded in 1991 by organic inspectors who recognized the need for uniform inspector processes and protocols to build inspector skills and promote public confidence. IOIA provides inspector training and networking services worldwide. The Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) organization, which is funded by the US government and housed at the University of Arkansas, in the past 10 years has expanded to include organic agriculture in its national education and information services provided to farmers, ranchers, and extension agents. Rodale Institute continues to provide research and education and recently has launched a New Farm web site to provide technical, marketing, and networking information to farmers. The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) was founded in 1997 to review farm inputs and processing products for use in organic production, and has an organic seed database available to assist farmers in finding organic seeds. The Organic Center was founded in 2002 to compile, support, and distribute sound scientific research on the human health benefits of organic agriculture and its products.
Each organization has a separate and distinct focus that has advanced the knowledge and expertise available to the public, the government, farmers, and the trade. Because they are separate organizations, more funds are available to support organic development than would have been possible for one organization to generate; in addition, the existence of these organizations reduces dependence on any one organization or the government.
Success factors for the early development of organic farming
Success factors for the early development of organic farming
regional alliances originating among farmers and later developing to include the rest of the supply chain and consumers or individuals
market-orientation of these organizations as well as a philosophical agenda
richness, diversity, and vitality of stakeholder involvement
successful marketing that depended on the availability of organic products where the consumer shops, clear labeling and an educated retail staff, consistent messages about organics or about specific products, positive messages about the benefits of organic, eye-appealing produce, displays, or packages, and sampling of products
the food coop movement, with an interest in social and economic changes
consistent and positive messages about organics or about a specific product
companies, organizations, and media that together raised awareness and consumer demand
stakeholder-driven campaigns for consumer information/education
one seal that identifies all organic products
farmer involvement in the early stage of standard development
national governmental regulatory framework with active stakeholder participation and support
alliances between the organic sector and other environmental, conservation, sustainable agriculture, and consumer organizations with shared interests
Situations that had a negative impact on the development:
the difficulty of having a national organization because of the size of the US
the association of organic farming with the ‘lunatic fringe’ or ‘hippies’
the quality of products in the early period, the small size of the organic sector
the competitiveness of the US market, inability to distinguish organic farming from other political, social and economic agendas
lack of support by the national or state governments for organic farming
lack of interest by government and the public about environmental issues in general and specifically the relationship between farming and the environment
plenty of passion but lack of experience in farming, business, or politics
(Author: Katherine DiMatteo)
Further reading on Early Organic Sector Development In the US:
Case Study Overview
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