Leading Change Organically: IFOAM Organics International and IFOAM North America

“Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.” (IFOAM definition of Organic Agriculture)

NOFA has been a member of IFOAM-Organics International for decades. Our relationship with IFOAM reaches back over 40 years to its founding in 1972. Sam Smith, Willie Lockeretz, and Judy Gillan, who soon became Massachusetts NOFA members, were active in IFOAM back in those days. French goat farmer Anton Pinschof still grumbles that Eliot Coleman lost the group’s papers from the first meetings in France. I love the way Pinschof refers to organic agriculture as the “peaceful peasant revolt of the 20th century.” Although still headquartered in Europe (the City of Bonn, Germany, provides free offices), IFOAM is outgrowing its eurocentricity and today includes 1003 members from 127 countries, with 356 in Europe, surpassed by 374 in Asia.

In the 1970’s and 80’s, IFOAM was the world leader in the development of organic standards. When NOFA folks decided to engage in organic certification, we used the IFOAM Basic Standards as our template and adapted them for our region, as did organic farming groups in other parts of the country. For years, the NOFA Interstate Council Policy has used the IFOAM Principles of Organic Agriculture as our basic policy platform.
During the era of Organic 2.0 (1980 – 2015), IFOAM’s focus was on legitimation: the principles were codified into standards and a worldwide system of certification, regulation, verification, accreditation, and harmonization of the various standards was put in place. IFOAM’s mission statement was “To lead, unite and assist the global organic movement in its full diversity.”

Starting with the 2008 elections to the IFOAM World Board when farmer Andre Leu became president, IFOAM’s top priority shifted from certification-accreditation-harmonization to promoting “small-holder” organic agriculture. For its 40th anniversary in 2011, IFOAM launched the Sustainable Organic Agriculture Action Network (SOAAN) to reclaim leadership in organic standard setting and to set a high bar that enables people around the world to distinguish between the mounting waves of greenwashing and authentic transformation that will lead to stable, healthy, just and sustainable communities. IFOAM subsequently built on SOAAN for Organic 3.0, the springboard for future policy endorsed at the 2017 General Assembly. Organic 3.0 aims for the broad adoption of truly sustainable agriculture, value chains and consumption in line with the principles of organic agriculture.

Under Leu’s leadership, IFOAM completed a strategic plan and wrote a new more activist mission statement –“leading change organically.” Leu is one of the authors of Organic 3.0. I have heard him speak several times on this topic and on the work that lies ahead. As Leu sees things, the problem of poverty has not been resolved. In many countries, farmers are in debt and losing their farms to banks and land grabs. He wants IFOAM to put its energies into bringing the most vulnerable among us out of poverty. “Organic farming should be the system of choice and then we will all have good and healthy food.” He defines Organic 3.0 as a bottom up, collective vision based in a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. In Leu’s view, there are diverse ways to insure transparency and integrity: Participatory Guarantee Systems and Community Supported Agriculture embody the holistic empowerment of our stakeholders – farmers and aware shoppers take control through local democratic efforts. Organic 3.0 means building partnerships with all efforts that are working towards true value and fair pricing so that we stop stealing from future generations –the worst of all crimes. This is Leu’s mantra – “Regenerative, Resilient, Relationships.” (From his speeches at the 40th Anniversary celebration and “CSA and PGS, Empowering Farmers and Consumers, Beijing CSA conference, 2015.)

IFOAM has helped persuade the UN that small scale organic agriculture is much more promising than industrial agriculture if we are serious about arresting climate change and ending world hunger and has been an important voice in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (See BOX). The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report was another result. In partnership with and funded by FAO (the Food and Agriculture organization of the UN), IFOAM engages in projects that support the development of family-scale farms in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Together, IFOAM and FAO will be undertaking a project to find out how much uncertified organic farming is underway. IFOAM is a champion of Regenerative Organic and is out there arguing that a transition to a Green Economy with strong environmental protections and reduced GHG emissions is our only hope.
IFOAM is an excellent source of materials for NOFA’s policy work. From its website you can download well-crafted position papers : Global Policy Toolkit on Public Support for Organic Agriculture, Use of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials in Organic Agriculture; The use of Organic Seed and Plant Propagation in Organic; The Role of Smallholders in Organic Agriculture; The Full Diversity of Organic Agriculture; The Role of Organic Agriculture in Mitigating Climate Change; Smallholder Group Certification for Organic Production and Processing; Position on Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Organisms; Organic Agriculture and Food Security; Organic Agriculture and Biodiversity. “The World of Organic Agriculture” 2018 edition, graphs, and infographics can be downloaded at www.organic-world.net/yearbook/yearbook-2018.html

Increasingly as membership has grown on all continents, IFOAM has decentralized its activities through regional bodies. IFOAM allocates 25% of membership income from a geographical area for regional activities. North America is the last region to form its own body and includes Canada, the US, and the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean. There are 40 members, or, what IFOAM calls “affiliates.” IFOAM NA – held its first meeting at Expo East in the fall of 2016, and elected a board: myself, Jeff Moyer, Sarah Brown, Bob Quinn, Leslie Zuck, Ryan Zinn, Dag Flack, Brian Baker and Lisa Pierce. Ryan and Lisa have since stepped down to be replaced by Jennifer Taylor and Shannon Jones. Brian Baker serves as president. IFOAM NA’s Mission is to provide a forum to exchange ideas and engage in North America-specific activities to advance organic agriculture and its principles, in partnership with IFOAM-Organics International and the global organic community.

IFOAM expects regional bodies such as IFOAM NA to play a leading role in the transition from Organic 2.0 to Organic 3.0, particularly with respect to including wider sustainability interests and empowerment from the farm to the final consumer. How IFOAM NA will accomplish this is not yet clear. Its first task is to get set up as an organization, to raise some additional funds and hire staff. The Board is determined not to compete with existing organic organizations and seeks to define a special role spreading understanding of the principles of organic which go way beyond the NOP. IFOAM NA also intends to sponsor regular conferences on organic research.