Chapter 1. The Global Growth and Evolution of Organic Agriculture


John Paull
University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Part of the book: Research Advancements in Organic Farming

Chapter DOI:


The de facto organic agriculture of millennia was disrupted by the arrival of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. The industrial-scale chemical explosives and poison gas production of World War 1 was, post war, promptly re-purposed as farm chemicals, synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. In 1924, the New Age philosopher, Dr Rudolf Steiner, called for a differentiated agriculture which eschewed synthetic chemicals, and relied on nature and biology rather than chemistry. By 1938, his Experimental Circle of devotees had tested and evolved his ideas into ‘biodynamic farming’. Influenced by Rudolf Steiner’s concept that ‘the farm is an organism’, Lord Northbourne coined the term ‘organic farming’, and, in 1940, he published ‘Look to the Land’, a manifesto of organic agriculture. He posited a contest of chemical agriculture versus organic farming, a contest that he foresaw may rage for decades or centuries. In the decades that followed, advocacy groups for biodynamics and organics proliferated. Five such entities (from France, Sweden, United Kingdom, South Africa and USA) came together in 1972 to form the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). Organic agriculture is now practised in 187 countries, accounts for 72.3 million hectares of agriculture land, and is valued at US$123 billion per annum. Organic agriculture production has evolved to presently exclude: (i) synthetic fertilisers; (ii) synthetic pesticides; (iii) antibiotics and synthetic medications; (iv) irradiation; (v) genetically modified organisms (GMOs); and (vi) nanotechnology. Consumers report that they purchase organic food because it is better for them, better for their children, better for the environment, and better for animals. Certification has enabled the wide geographic distribution of organic produce. Organic agriculture is growing at 11.5% per annum, and has been growing at this rate over the past two decades. Organic agriculture is thriving as a niche agriculture, accounting for 1.5% of global agriculture. Can it achieve the vision of the early advocates of organic agriculture to become the mainstream agriculture? The Indian state of Sikkim is now 100% organic. A longitudinal graph of the growth trajectory, and a world map of the distribution of organic agriculture, are presented.

Keywords: organic farming, Fritz Haber, Rudolf Steiner, Koberwitz, Lord Northbourne, world map, synthetic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides, irradiation, genetically modified organisms, nanotechnology, consumers


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