Sustainable agriculture

Organic agriculture: sustainability, markets and policies


 Proceedings from an OECD Workshop, Washington DC, United States, September 2002.

Organic agriculture is expanding in all OECD countries, and is one of the most rapidly developing market segments. It is no longer limited to farmers selling their produce at the farm-gate or through specialised stores, but has extended into the mainstream of the agri-food chain. It is seen by many as offering considerable benefits over other production systems, particularly with respect to sustainable development. Many countries have introduced policy measures to encourage and promote organic farming. But what exactly is the contribution of organic agriculture to sustainable development? What issues should be addressed by policies? What are governments actually doing and how effective have their actions been?


The recent OECD Workshop on Organic Agriculture examined these issues. It concluded that while organic agriculture is generally less stressful on the environment, good farm management is crucial. The economic performance of organic farms is mixed, with considerable variation in the yields achieved and the premiums received for products within and across OECD countries. This publication reveals that organic agriculture is disadvantaged by current agricultural support policies, and the proliferation of standards and labels has sometimes confused consumers and impeded trade. A key policy challenge is to ensure that both the positive and negative externalities of different agricultural production systems are taken into account.


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