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Self-sufficiency in
organic farming

A precondition for continuous consumer confidence and progress in the development of organic food systems is that organic production takes place in accordance with organic principles and thereby constitutes a genuine alternative to conventional food production.

In practice, it has been difficult to obtain self-sufficiency in other areas of organic production. In some cases, organic producers have argued for import of conventional seeds, propagation materials, feed stuffs, straw, manure, vitamins and minerals, etc.

The argumentation has influenced the regulation for organic farming, which often dispense for the use of conventional products. As organic farms become more specialized, the problems of maintaining autonomy and integrity can be expected to increase.

Likewise, the proclaimed environmental sustainability of organic farming is not expressed in terms of energy consumption. There are many unique initiatives taken in order to reduce the consumption of fossil energy in organic farming, but at the bottom line organic farming is consuming fossil energy in a scale similar to conventional farming. Energy wise, organic farming is still not a real alternative to conventional farming.

On this background the objective of a workshop on "self-sufficiency in organic farming" held March 21, 2007 at the University of Hohenheim, Germany in connection with the QLIF congress was to elucidate possibilities and barriers for increased self-sufficiency in organic farming.


Presentations at the workshop

In order to initiate discussion at the workshop, three presentations on dealing with different aspects of self-sufficiency was provided:

Organic farming and Biogas
In the first presentation Michael Tersbøl Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, National Centre argued that biogas could become a useful tool in order to ensure independence of conventional manure, improve crop rotations, initiate energy production and improve the environmental profile of organic farming. See the presentation

Barriers and possibilities for independent plant breeding and seed production
In the second presentation Andreas Thommen from the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture at Switzerland outlined the challenges facing organic breeding and seed production. His conclusions for was that the establishment of an independent organic seed production is possible but at a very high price. In contrast, an independent organic breeding system is hardly possible. Therefore alternatives (like participative breeding) should be enforced. See the presentation

Contribution of organic livestock farming to face the challenge of climatic changes
In the final presentation Albert Sundrum, Dept. of Animal Nutrition and Animal Health at the University of Kassel, discussed organic livestock production in relation to both global and system-related implications and benefits. See the presentation


Discussion

A general discussion point was on what level self-sufficiency in organic farming should be achieved. Should it be on field or heard level, on farm level, or on regional, national or global level?

The value and benefits of biogas production was not rejected, but several speakers pointed out that long term experiments was needed in order to clarify the effect of biogas slurry on food quality, soil fertility, environment, etc.

Examples presented during the discussion showed that slurry from biogas is not necessarily problem free. Research is needed both to ensure quality of organic production in connection with biogas production and to ensure the integration of biogas production in the food production system.

The experiments on could sensibly be followed up by studies on consumer attitudes towards food produced in combination with biogas production.

It was generally agreed that the lack of self-sufficiency in organic farming is a problem that needs more attention. Due to the nature of the challenges, there is a need for both European action and international cooperation in order to provide solutions that are sustainable both locally and globally.

As time for discussion was very limited it was suggested to provide possibility for continue the discussion at an electronic forum. A discussion forum has therefore been set up at www.organicforum.org.

You are welcome to contribute.