Working Group 2.6

Conventionalisation? Organic Farmers Bite Back!

Julien Blanc, Museum National d´Histoire Naturelle, France
 Ika Darnhofer, BOKU Univ. of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Austria
Stéphane Bellon, INRA SAD Ecodevelopment Unit, France

The development trends within organic farming (OF) and especially the thesis of conventionalisation have been debated for over ten years, yielding various viewpoints and empirical evidence to support them. Most authors contributing to this debate report that in many countries a number of certified organic farms display a range of practices closely resembling those on conventional farms. Although conventionalisation has so far not been identified as the dominant trend in organic farming, does it represent a threat for OF development? Among others, would it compromise OF ability to implement ecologically sound farming practices and to fulfil the expectations as to its contribution to rural development?
To counteract this threat, and strengthen organic farming’s transformative potential, the debate must move beyond its focus on the bifurcation between artisanal and conventionalised organic actors, in order to understand better the complexity and propose more reliable descriptors of conventionalisation processes.
This working group seeks to assess the implication of these developments for rural areas and identify the range of options used by organic farmers to fight against the ‘dilution’ of organic farming, fight against a reductionist understanding of organic farming limiting it to the legal requirements. It gives continuity to the debate started at previous ESRS and IRSA meetings. It invites contributions from scholars, and from post-graduate students and academics engaged with the movement. In doing so we aim to concentrate on three major areas of debate:
The perception of organic farmers: Some fear that organic farming might loose its identity and become little more than a production method or a product, thereby loosing the holistic concept embodied in its principles. How does the increasing number of actors in the organic sector affect the self-identity and self-perception of organic farmers? More generally, how different views among stakeholders affect the dynamics of the organic movement?
The organic practices: Although ‘conventionalisation’ is widely used as a term it lack clear criteria that can be used to assess what is or is not conventionalisation, much less the degree of conventionalisation. Can criteria, indicators or assessment methods be identified? What examples are there that best illustrate social and production practices that fulfil legal requirements but are in stark contrast with organic principles?
Future options: New regulations and incentives at various scales tend to redefine the roles of organic farming and its contribution to rural development. Would they open new avenues to extend organic food and farming in alternative patterns? How would they participate in designing others options beyond bifurcation? Which way forwards can be identified? How can organic farming keep its distinct identity yet be able to adapt to change and integrate new opportunities?

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