Copenhagen, 2 May 1996
PRESS RELEASE
President of IFOAM at press conference in Copenhagen, 2 May 1996.

Global focus on ecology

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ORGANIC AGRICULTURE PRECEDES THE FAO WORLD FOOD SUMMIT

A proposal to the FAO World Food Summit

FAO called on to give serious consideration to the organic alternative

"The FAO must give serious consideration to the organic alternative by placing organic agriculture on the agenda of the World Food Summit, in Rome in November", says Hervé la Prairie, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). "Organic agriculture has matured sufficiently to be taken seriously by world leaders as an agricultural type capable of solving agriculture's environmental problems without risk of compromising food supply." Hervé la Prairie was speaking at a press conference (2 May) to present the International Conference on Organic Agriculture (11th IFOAM Scientific Conference) and the First Organic World Exhibition scheduled for Copenhagen 11-15 and 10-13 August respectively. "The FAO's World Food Summit could benefit greatly from the evidence and research to be presented at the organic conference", says Hervé la Prairie. The Copenhagen conference will bring together 1000 scientists and practitioners from around the world to debate global developments in ecology and organic production. It will address a number of new, main themes relating to overall social, environmental and economic consequences of restructuring agriculture along organic lines, in a period of increased global focus on ecology. The Director General of the FAO, Jacques Diouf, has been invited to deliver the closing address to the conference.

Hervé la Prairie accused the FAO of "optimism" when it states that the number of undernourished people in the world will decline from the present 800 million to 650 million over the next 15 years. "This view is based on the assumption that production per capita will continue its steady rise in the future", said la Prairie. The World Watch Institute and the Consultancy Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) share a more pessimistic outlook forecasting a deficiency in cereals by 2025 of 700 million tonnes.

"Agricultural land area on the planet is declining due to soil erosion, loss of soil humus, salination, waterlogging in irrigated areas and the depletion of groundwater resources", he said, "and even if the new Green Revolution and the genetic engineering concept it is based on succeeds in fabricating varieties that are even higher yielding than the old "high yielding varieties" they will share the old need for input of water, fertilizers and pesticides."

Environmental accountability and sustainability

The methods used in organic farming are in accordance with biological principles, i.e. diversity, and have been employed by farmers for centuries. The methods used in conventional farming on the other hand are contrary to fundamental biological principles and as such can never be sustainable. The use of pesticides is threatening biological diversity by poisoning insects, birds and other organisms while at the same time posing a health threat to humans. Soil erosion is also a serious environmental problem in many areas. "These problems are nonexistent in organic farming", says la Prairie.

"The only pesticides used are natural products and by using compost and the system of "mulching" instead of artificial fertilizer, top soil is maintained and the humus content in the soil improved. This is one of the reasons why organic agriculture is sustainable in the very literal sense of the word", says Hervé la Prairie.

The term 'sustainable' was first used at IFOAM's first international conference in 1977, held under the slogan "Towards Sustainable Agriculture". The upcoming International Conference on Organic Agriculture (11th IFOAM Scientific Conference) in Copenhagen 11-15 August will reflect the changes currently being experienced in organic agriculture where the experimental period is giving way to an era of political and economic realism, highlighting organic production as a viable solution to world hunger.

Organic agriculture as an alternative

"Conventional agriculture is a proven polluter. Environmental problems seen in industrial countries will force the change to organic methods within a short span of time. To mention just one example. The costs of purifying drinking water are far higher than the economic gains of using conventional farming methods", says Hervé la Prairie.

The general view in industrial countries where conventional, intensive farming is prevalent is that large-scale conversion to organic farming would aggravate world hunger. Organic methods are less intensive and therefore yields in industrial countries are somewhat lower than those of conventional agriculture. "But it would be erroneous to globalise this view," says Hervé la Prairie. "In the developing countries land is farmed at a very low level of intensity and even if available, small farmers cannot afford the fertilizers and pesticides necessary for conventional agriculture. Conversion to organic methods, using recycled household waste as compost and employing other little "tricks" of organic agriculture, would increase yields dramatically. In many parts of the world organic methods are simply the only way of eradicating hunger and ensuring food for all."

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