|Chosen papers on organic farming
Social aspects of organic farming
Angelantonio D’Amario, Fabio Marzoli, Francesco Martino, Michele Morettini
Modern organic farming represents a merging of a number of different streams of thought (1). In 1924 the Austrian philosopher Dr. Rudolf Steiner presented an alternative vision of agriculture arising from his spiritual science of anthroposophy (2). This formed the basis of the development of bio-dynamic agriculture which is now practised in many countries around the world. After the ideas of Steiner many others have contributed to develop the concept of organic farming that is now practised world wide. All the definitions of organic farming incorporate the concept of sustainability. But the term sustainability is used in a wider sense to underline not only the conservation of non renewable resources (soil, energy, minerals) but also issue of social sustainability.
Sustainable agriculture must be both ecologically and socially sustainable. Organic agriculture is socially sustainable when its techniques are embedded in a social organization that furthers the underlying values of ecological sustainability. Ecological values include consuming only what you need, replacing what you take, ensuring that waste products can be naturally recycled, and that products used in one place are not derived from extractive industries somewhere else. Needless to say, the system of multinational trade and corporate capitalism as presently constituted is based on premises that are exactly the opposite of ecological sustainability.
On the other hand organic farming has the potential to provide positive externalities not only on environmental protection but also in social aspects like job opportunities and rural development.
Social benefits arising from organic farming
Impact on employment
The substitution of chemical inputs in organic agriculture generally results in higher demand for labour in comparison with conventional agriculture and therefore, should contribute to rural employment and help keep in business small farms which would otherwise not be able to cope with intensification and global competition (4).
In general, labour use, whether in farm hours or full-time labour units, is generally higher on organic farms than on their equivalent conventional farms. Other studies observe that labour input is expected to be higher in organic farming primarily due to the manual and mechanical work needed to weed crops. Preparing products for home and market sale also need more labour on organic farms (5).
In the overall assessment of labour inputs in organic farming, the problem is to what extent indirect labour requirements such as third party services (e.g. ploughing, harrowing and mechanical weeding), are higher than the corresponding conventional services (e.g. spraying). This should be taken into consideration for a more general evaluation of the differences in the labour content.
Support to local and regional economies
Organic farming and integrated farming also represent real opportunities on several levels, contributing to rural economies through sustainable development. Indeed, new employment opportunities in farming, processing and related services are already evident in the growth of the organic sector. As well as the environmental advantages, these farming systems can bring significant benefits both to the economy and the social cohesion of rural areas. The availability of financial support and other incentives for farmers to convert to organic production is designed to help the sector grow still further and to support associated businesses throughout the food chain.
Organic farm holidays
Italy has about 400 organic farms, with a higher concentration in Tuscany, offering environmentally friendly holidays. They range from a simple meal to weeklong stays, and may offer the possibility of joining in the farm work, or participating in traditional handicrafts workshops. AIAB, the country’s largest certifying body, is now setting the first Italian standards on eco-tourism. The standards will require organic holiday farms to comply with a set of rules that includes ecological practices and principles, and connection to the values of the local landscape and cultural heritage of a territory.
Ecological tourism to organic farms is a tool to help small farmers to earn additional income and in this way support the transition from conventional agriculture to organic agriculture. Moreover farms that offer tourism holidays have the opportunity to sell their products thoroughly to the consumer avoiding often expensive intermediaries.
Organic farming in national parks
In co-operation with environmental associations and the more enlightened local administration, efforts have been made to promote organic farming within National Parks and in protected areas. Agricultural areas inside protected parks are often subjected to restrictions that are difficult to associate with the farming practices. In this sense organic farming must have priority over conventional farming on these areas. A research project in Tuscany obtained encouraging results and this experience can be extended also to other protected areas in nation parks (6).
- Boeringa, R. (1980), Alternative methods of agriculture. Agriculture and Environment special Issue, 5. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
- Steiner, R. (1924) Agriculture: a course of eight lectures. Rudolf Steiner Press/ BioDynamic Agricultural association, London
- Howard, P.L. (2003). A framework for analysing the economic and social sustainability of organic agriculture and its contributions to rural development, with special reference to the European Union. Paper presented at the European Society for Rural Sociology, 20th Biennial Conference, Sligo, Ireland, 19-22 August 2003
- Marino D., Santucci F.M., Zanoli R., Fiorani S., 1997. Labour intensity in conventional and organic farming, in ENOF : Resource Use in Organic Farming. Proceedings of the 3rd ENOF Workshop, J. Isart & J.J. Llerana, Barcelona.
- Padel S., Lampkin N., 1994. Farm-level performance of Organic Farming Systems, in Lampkin N., Padel S. (eds) : The economics of organic farming. An international perspective, CAB International, Wallingford.
- Zigliorini P. I Parchi Regionali Toscani e il Progetto Pilota per lo sviluppo dell'agricoltura e la zootecnia biologica. CONFERENZA NAZIONALE DELL’EDUCAZIONE AMBIENTALE.