Organic agriculture is a farming system based on the optimal use of natural resources.
On a practical level this translates into many practices, such as avoidance of genetically modified organisms and of chemical additives, whether for soil fertilization or pest control.
Organic agriculture adopts production strategies that reduce energy consumption and the utilization of inorganic substances, especially those of synthetic origin. Farmers use natural methods, whenever possible, in contrast to techniques that require fertilizers derived from oil, genetic engineering, and ionic radiation, among others.
Organic food is produced without harming the soil’s long-term fertility by using a variety of methods, including the recycling of waste, the devolution of nutrients to the soil and the use of only non-transgenic seeds.
Organic food is known for its nutritional value because it contains a larger proportion of nutrients -including vitamins and minerals- than those produced with agrochemicals.
Organic manufactured goods are created following a set of strict procedures, which assure that items remain free of unnatural substances such as hormones, antibiotics, and metal waste. No artificial colorants, flavorings, or genetically modified ingredients are used during processing. Some products may also use ecological or recyclable packaging.
In search of transparency and quality, a certification system has been established in many countries. Though still in consolidation, this system aims to guarantee the application of proper bio procedures for all stages of food production. From a legal point of view, an organic product can be considered as such only if it has been certified by an appropriate authority (please see links further below).
Biodynamic agriculture, permaculture, Native American agriculture and family-based agriculture are types of farming systems whose common ground is the search for balance between human action and the ecosystem in which we live. They are sustainable schemes that have survived (and continue to be successful for communities) in several parts of the world.
Ecological, or organic, agriculture does not aim to nurture a single plant directly, but to stimulate the whole system that allows for its growth. It builds off of the ecosystem’s natural characteristics, in an intensive way. This is done through a variety of techniques such as seed association, by which the mixing of different species in the same area causes productive synergies.
There are several modern models of organic agriculture, the oldest of which began with the German land reforms of the late XIX century. These changes came about as a response to the impact that the Industrial Revolution was having over the farming sector, including the first chemical pesticide, which was manufactured in the mid XIX century.
Some of the best-known schools of organic farming include:
Biodynamic AgricultureBiodynamic Agriculture promotes cultivation methods that recognize and therefore use the intrinsic energy of all living beings. It was the response to what was known, a hundred years ago, as the “new scientific agriculture”. Proposed in 1924 by the creator of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, its principle was summarized by its founder: “we are looking for a way to better understand the spiritual dimension of Nature, in order to learn to work the soil in proper integration of the human and the natural.”
Agricultura OrgánicaThe school of Organic Agriculture was launched in England in the 1930s by the agronomists Eve Balfour and Albert Howard. In 1943, Balfour published the book The Living Soil, where she explained how soil health and human health are inseparable. Her work led to the creation, in 1946, of the Soil Association, a now leading entity on research, training, norms and certifications. Her ideas were promoted in the United States by Jerome Rodale, who launched the magazine “Organic Farming and Gardening” in the 1940s. Thanks to the notable popularity of this magazine, the Rodale Institute was founded, and is now a prominent center promoting research and training on organic agriculture. From this movement also came the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), created in 1972 and today a global leader in the sector.
Natural AgriculturePresented in the fifties by the biologist and Japanese Zen monk Masanobu Fukuoka, Natural Agriculture does not use machinery or chemical products; it works with minimal weeding and does not require tilling or fertilizing the soil. Fukuoka’s philosophy is based on the idea that we must “cooperate with Nature, instead of trying to improve or conquer it”. On his books The One-Straw Revolution and The Natural Way of Farming, he explains how one must begin with the proper conditions for farming, in order to avoid interference with the natural process of growing. Fukuoka’s agricultural techniques are based on a philosophy whose essence is the belief that healing the earth and the human spirit are one and the same process. This thinking is also known as the philosophy of Non-doing, or Non-intervention.
There are other important schools in organic farming. In general, they share three core principles. Fundamentally, they share three core principles: the promotion of environmental sustainability; the search for better standards of human health; and the establishment of new bridges with the scientific community, in order to make better use of technological advancements which, when applied to agriculture, are consistent with natural processes.