What is Organic Agriculture?
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.
Principles of Organic Agriculture
These Principles are the roots from which organic agriculture grows and develops. They express the
contribution that organic agriculture can make to the world, and a vision to improve all agriculture in a global
Agriculture is one of humankind’s most basic activities because all people need to nourish themselves daily.
History, culture and community values are embedded in agriculture. The Principles apply to agriculture in the
broadest sense, including the way people tend soils, water, plants and animals in order to produce, prepare and
distribute food and other goods. They concern the way people interact with living landscapes, relate to one
another and shape the legacy of future generations.
The Principles of Organic Agriculture serve to inspire the organic movement in its full diversity. They guide
IFOAM’s development of positions, programs and standards. Furthermore, they are presented with a vision of
their world-wide adoption.
Organic agriculture is based on:
The principle of health
The principle of ecology
The principle of fairness
The principle of care
Each principle is articulated through a statement followed by an explanation. The principles are to be used as a
whole. They are composed as ethical principles to inspire action.
Principle of health
Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and
This principle points out that the health of individuals and communities cannot be separated from the health of
ecosystems - healthy soils produce healthy crops that foster the health of animals and people.
Health is the wholeness and integrity of living systems. It is not simply the absence of illness, but the
maintenance of physical, mental, social and ecological well-being. Immunity, resilience and regeneration are key
characteristics of health.
The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and
enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the
soil to human beings. In particular,
organic agriculture is intended to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventive health
care and well-being. In view of this it should avoid the use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal drugs and food
additives that may have adverse health effects.
Principle of ecology
Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them
and help sustain them.
This principle roots organic agriculture within living ecological systems. It states that production is to be based
on ecological processes, and recycling. Nourishment and well-being are achieved through the ecology of the
specific production environment. For example, in the case of crops this is the living soil; for animals it is the farm
ecosystem; for fish and marine organisms, the aquatic environment.
Organic farming, pastoral and wild harvest systems should fit the cycles and ecological balances in nature.
These cycles are universal but their operation is site-specific. Organic management must be adapted to local
conditions, ecology, culture and scale. Inputs should be reduced by reuse, recycling and efficient management
of materials and energy in order to maintain and improve environmental quality and conserve resources.
Organic agriculture should attain ecological balance through the design of farming systems, establishment of
habitats and maintenance of genetic and agricultural diversity. Those who produce, process, trade, or
consume organic products should protect and benefit the common environment including landscapes, climate,
habitats, biodiversity, air and water.
Principle of fairness
Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment
and life opportunities.
Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people
and in their relations to other living beings.
This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a
manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties – farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders
and consumers. Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life, and
contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality
food and other products.
This principle insists that animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord
with their physiology, natural behavior and well-being.
Natural and environmental resources that are used for production and consumption should be managed in a
way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations. Fairness requires
systems of production, distribution and trade that are open and equitable and account for real environmental
and social costs.
Principle of care
Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and
well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
Organic agriculture is a living and dynamic system that responds to internal and external demands and
conditions. Practitioners of organic agriculture can enhance efficiency and increase productivity, but this should
not be at the risk of jeopardizing health and well-being. Consequently, new technologies need to be assessed
and existing methods reviewed. Given the incomplete understanding of ecosystems and agriculture, care must
This principle states that precaution and responsibility are the key concerns in management, development and
technology choices in organic agriculture. Science is necessary to ensure that organic agriculture is healthy,
safe and ecologically sound. However, scientific knowledge alone is not sufficient. Practical experience,
accumulated wisdom and traditional and indigenous knowledge offer valid solutions, tested by time. Organic
agriculture should prevent significant risks by adopting appropriate technologies and rejecting unpredictable
ones, such as genetic engineering. Decisions should reflect the values and needs of all who might be affected,
through transparent and participatory processes.