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

be taken.

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.


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