Organic Agriculture

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Organic agriculture is a holistic system approach based upon sustainable ecosystems, safe 

food production, good nutrition, animal welfare and social justice. 



Many different expressions have come to be used to imply greater sustainability in some 

agricultural systems over prevailing ones (both pre-industrial and industrialized). These 

include biodynamic, community-based, eco-agriculture, ecological, environmentally sensitive, 

extensive, farm-fresh, free-range, low-input, organic, permaculture, sustainable and wise use. 

There is a continuing and intense debate about whether agricultural systems using some of these 

practices can qualify as sustainable. 

However highly sustainable agricultural systems can be taken to mean those that aim to make the 

best use of environmental goods and services while not damaging the five assets – particularly 

natural, social and human capital. The key principles for sustainability are to: 

(i) Integrate biological and ecological processes such as nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, soil 

regeneration, allelopathy, competition, predation and parasitism into food production processes; 

(ii) Minimize the use of those non-renewable inputs that cause environmental damage or that 

harm the health of animals, farmers and consumers; 

(iii) Make good use of the knowledge and skills of farmers, so improving their self-reliance 

and substituting human capital for costly external inputs; 

(iv) Make productive use of people’s collective capacities to work together to solve common 

agricultural and natural resource problems, such as pests, animal husbandry and welfare, disease 

management, watershed, irrigation, forest and credit management. 

Sustainability in agricultural systems incorporates concepts of both resilience (the capacity of 

systems to resist shocks and stresses) and persistence (the capacity of systems to continue over 

long periods), and addresses many wider economic, social and environmental outcomes. 

Agricultural systems with high levels of social and human assets are more able to adapt to 

change and innovate in the face of uncertainty. This suggests that there are likely to be many 

pathways towards agricultural sustainability; no single system of technologies, inputs or 

ecological management is more likely to be widely applicable than another. Agricultural 

sustainability then implies the need to fit these factors to the specific circumstances of different 

local agricultural systems.

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