Jan Piotrowski interviewed Urs Niggli of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL about TIPI for an article on SciDev.Net – the Science and Development Network.

Jan Piotrowski: Am I right in thinking that TIPI is the same as the global organic research network (IGORN) that was announced at the RIO+20 Summit in June 2012?

Urs Niggli: Yes, absolutely. We renamed IGORN to TIPI. TIPI is short for Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. It is a more appropriate name to describe the inclusive and dynamic process of a stakeholder-driven and stakeholder-owned research agenda development with a “Research Vision”, a “Research Strategy” and a “Research Action Plan”. Technology Platforms are very important for the management of research policies in Europe, especially in the European Union. The Technology Platform Organics (TP Organics) of the European Union Group of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is the model for TIPI.

Jan Piotrowski: TIPI is designed to coordinate research into organics. Is there currently sufficient or insufficient research going on at the moment? Examples? What are the major holes that need filling? How will TIPI help improve this, and is it enough in itself to ensure enough research is done?

TIPI is a platform where organic farmers, scientists businesses in the organic sector, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders can debate the future of organic farming research and use TIPI’s vision, strategy and action Plan to influence policy.

Out of the 52 billion US dollars spent on agriculture research annually (data for 2000 from the International Food Policy Research Institute (www.IFPRI.org), less than 4 per mille are spent on solutions specific for organic farming systems. 55 % of all research funding is done by the private sector seed, pesticide, fertilizer and other companies. The full productivity and profitability of organic farming systems cannot be deployed unless there is greater investment by the private sector.
Major holes? To mention only a few:  Adapted breeding goals for both crops and livestock for low-input and organic farm environment; eco-functional intensification strategies (e.g. functional biodiversity, habitat management, and biocontrol organisms for plant and livestock pests, phytotherapy for crop and livestock production, nitrogen supply in organic crops, management of organic matter and efficient cycling of nutrients; reduced tillage systems and precision farming techniques for organic crops’; low-input dairy systems and local supply of protein sources, just to name a few.

Jan Piotrowski: Why this recent flurry of initiatives? Is the importance of organic growing and what impact has this had on policymakers? Are policymakers waking up to the movement‘s potential in development?

Urs Niggli: There is no flurry of initiatives. The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) was established as an academic society in 2003. All the other activities of establishing stakeholder platforms have always the same purpose but different geographical foci: TIPI is global, TP Organics is EU or TP Organic Czech Republic for instant is national. 
Organic markets have grown at a rate of 5 to 10 % annually. The organic food sector remains optimistic, and many companies are investing in continued growth. In a growing number of countries, the market has found it difficult to maintain a supply of sufficient quantities of organic food. Large food processors and traders need to keep up with the demand if they want to diversify business towards organic food. ^

In addition to the food business, several 100’000 small holder farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America increase the productivity and the profitability of their farms with organic farming. It is a holistic development as it involves and exploits not only technology but also natural and social capital. Case studies done by Jules Pretty of the University of Essex in Sub-Saharan Africa on 2 million smallholder farms for UNCTAD/UNEP/FAO (2008) show that livelihoods and education and training opportunities for farm children was considerably improved by a conversion to organic farming. Many challenges agriculture faces in the future—such as soil fertility and biodiversity losses, rising energy prices, finite nature of resources like phosphorous, adaptation to climate change—can be partly or comprehensively addressed with organic farming. Organic farming will play a role in the change towards agroecological transformation of agriculture.

Jan Piotrowski: Is there anything that needs to be done to engage policymakers/producers with organic? If so, how would you achieve this?

Urs Niggli: TIPI should mainly influence research policy and should support national, transnational and global agricultural policies with sound scientific evidence. IFOAM needs scientific support and scientific arguments when negotiating in international treaties and conferences.

I think there is an increasing awareness that organic agriculture will be part of the solution to global food and environment problems. Especially the EU has increased its support for organic farming, and it will play an even more important role in research in the period 2014 to 2020 (Research Framework Program Horizon 2020, respectively the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on agricultural productivity and sustainability). 

Jan Piotrowski: Does organic have the potential to drive agricultural development or is it still only for the rich?

Urs Niggli: Households do not necessarily spend more money for food when they buy organic. Highly processed food, plenty of meat and waste are more expensive than a healthy nutrition with an organic diet.

Domestic organic markets are growing rapidly in Eastern Europe as well as in emerging and developing countries, In developing countries, new certifications schemes have developed for local markets or short supply chains, especially group certifications and Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS). They rely on mutual control and well organized training and advice systems.

Jan Piotrowski:  What are the future plans for TIPI?

Urs Niggli: For 2013, TIPI has the following program:

  • To develop a Global Research Vision for organic farming addressing the challenges of food security, ecosystem degradation and social and economic discrimination of farmers.
  • To prepare a new workshop format for the discussion of farmers with scientists on the state-of-the-art of the most important problems and challenges of organic farming methods/organic food chains at the next IFOAM International Congress in Istanbul in October 2014.
  • To make an inventory of all research programs, research institutes and scientific literature on the website www.organic-research.net and improve transparency on research results via the online archive for literature related to organic farming research http://orgprints.org.
  • To start the work of the board of TIPI with 2 meetings.
  • To prepare a conference of TIPI members in Istanbul in October 2014 with debates on future research trends in organic and agro-ecological farming.
  • To advise and support IFOAM on scientific aspects of organic farming and climate change, food security and ecosystem services. 

More information 


Prof. Dr. Urs Niggli, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Frick