Contact

Andre Leu
President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)
Office of the IFOAM President
PO Box 800
Mossman, Queensland, 4873
Australia
a.leu(at)ifoam.org
Office land line: +61740987610
Skype: andre.leu1

TIPI - Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM - Organics International

TIPI - Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM - Organics International

Speech of Andre Leu, IFOAM President, at Science Day, February 15, 2013

Science Day - Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM (TIPI)
Opening Speech, BioFach 2013, Nuremberg, Germany, February 15, 2013

Andre Leu, President of IFOAM

Welcome and thank you for coming here this morning. I am pleased to see scientists and researchers from all over the world here today. I would like acknowledge both FiBL and ISOFAR for their active contribution to the formation TIPI and to this event and that I appreciate that so many people are here today to be part of it.

I personally believe that this meeting, today, is a significant milestone and as important as a small meeting that occurred 40 years ago in Versailles that started IFOAM and the global organic movement. I see today as an important step in moving organic agriculture towards being a system of good practices based on credible science.

Our movement started over 100 years ago, largely as a reaction to the developing science of the day. Some farmers and researchers were concerned about the deterioration of crop and soil quality and the increases in diseases that they observed were occurring in the farms using synthetic mineral fertilizers and pesticides.

In one way this was unfortunate because it also resulted in developing an image that organic was anti-science and based on dogma. As a result we were largely avoided by the scientific community and seen as lacking scientific credibility. In part we are also to blame for not actively engaging with many other aspects of the sciences of the time that would have facilitated the growth in our systems.

However this is changing now

Although initially we defined our movement by what we opposed, since the formation of IFOAM, we have through consensus as a global movement, defined organic systems through The Four Principles of Organic Agriculture and the Definition of Organic Agriculture. This gives us the positive guidance on the type of agriculture we aspire to achieve, rather than being defined as ‘anti’ by the agricultural practices we dislike.

In that 100 years science has developed exponentially and there are now numerous scientific disciplines that are relevant to organic agriculture. Disciplines such as entomology, physiology, microbiology, genetics, epigenetics, endocrinology, agronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, agro-ecology and ecology are examples of some of the sciences that can assist us in improving organic systems. These should be used together in interdisciplinary whole of systems research rather than the current dominant reductionist paradigm.

For me, today is significant because by coming together globally to launch TIPI we are also facilitating one of the most important paradigm shifts in our movement. We are moving away from being seen as based on dogma to an organic agriculture that is based on credible interdisciplinary, cross cutting sciences that are informed by our definition and four principles.

Where would I like to see the priorities?

Yields

The issue of yields needs to be addressed urgently. We are losing credibility as a system in the international food security policy arena and being further marginalized over the current push for ‘sustainable intensification’ to produce the food needed to feed the ever too rapidly growing population of this planet in the future.

One of the interesting facts is that despite the trillions of dollars spent on research into conventional agriculture and the almost total neglect of organic agriculture in the last 100 years, some Meta studies such as the one published in Nature suggest that on average, organic yields are 80% of conventional yields. This is an incredibly small yield gap in relation to the enormous level of research and resources that have been spent to achieve it.

Very significantly the data sets have examples of organic systems that have yield parity and higher yields than conventional. These examples need to be researched to understand why and importantly, to replicate, improve and scale up globally. This will close the yield gap and has the potential to overtake the conventional average.

Soil carbon sequestration

Climate Change is one of the most significant crises that we are facing and organic agriculture has the potential to make a significant contribution in managing climate change through both mitigation and adaptation. Soil carbon sequestration is one of the key areas where we can contribute.  Like the data on yields there are data sets with sequestration levels that are significantly higher than the Meta average. These examples need to be researched to understand why and importantly, to replicate, improve and scale up globally.

Eco–functional intensification

The current loss of biodiversity on this planet is causing the greatest extinction event since the end of the cretaceous period. Farming is one of the main causes of this due to both habitat loss and the disruption caused by novel synthetic chemicals. Organic agriculture has a role in conserving and equally as importantly, increasing and utilizing biodiversity through the concept of eco-functional intensification.

The increased use, efficacy and efficiency of applied functional biodiversity to provide the crop with nutrition and protection from pests and diseases is an important part of the many components needed improve the performance of organic agriculture. It is about the science of applied agro-ecology where we actively increase the biodiversity in our systems to deliver these services rather than using the conventional approach, based on reductionist monocultures reliant on externally sourced toxic synthetic inputs.

Many organic systems use a range of eco-functional intensification systems, while there are others that are based on substituting organic inputs for conventional inputs. We need to move all organic farming systems towards eco-functional intensification and to do this we need to document the numerous existing examples as well as improve and develop new ones and scale these up.

Post-harvest

We need to ensure that organic food reaches our consumers in the best condition possible and for this we need post-harvest research to work seamlessly with the agronomic production research.

Economics

It is important that all organic farms from small holders in the developing world to farmers in the North are economically viable so that the farm families have an acceptable income level and are not living in poverty. We need to research and develop a diversity of viable economic organic farming systems.

Engage with the wider scientific community

We need to be seen as part of the continuum of sciences and farming systems, rather than a niche on the fringe of agriculture. To do this we need to actively engage with the wider scientific community and be seen as constructive contributors to the whole of the agricultural sciences and the body of knowledge that informs them.

In Conclusion

Once again I want to thank you for coming here to this important event. I look forward to many years of working together to develop production systems that are based on credible interdisciplinary, cross cutting sciences that are informed by the IFOAM definition and the four principles of organic agriculture.

 

Thank you

Andre Leu, IFOAM President.