Organic farming: history, chronology and impact

Organic farming refers to a method of farming that uses fertilizers made from animal and plant wastes and other organic materials. Recognizing the environmental damage from traditional agriculture, which used pesticides and chemical fertilizers, the scientists found that agricultural conditions could benefit from the use of animal manure, crop rotation, cover crops and the natural pest control. Today, organic foods have grown in popularity, especially among consumers concerned about the potential negative effects of pesticides, GMOs, and hormones.

What does organic mean?

Organic describes any food produced without chemical fertilizers, pesticides or antibiotics. The USDA certifies that food is organic if it has been grown in soil that has not been covered with synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for three full years before the food is harvested.

Traditional agriculture has a greater impact on the environment due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion and water pollution. However, traditional farming generally produces higher yields (around 5-34% more) than organic farming. This is one of the reasons why organic products are more expensive. Conventional agriculture also uses synthetic insecticides to get rid of pests and diseases, while organic agriculture uses insects and birds.

The origin and chronology of organic farming

According to a 2020 report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), there were at least 2.8 million organic producers worldwide in 2018. How did we get here?

Organic farming as a concept began at the beginning of the 20th century as the need to combat soil erosion and depletion, lack of crop varieties and insufficient quality of food increased. Over time, the mechanization of agriculture evolved rapidly, which significantly increased crop yields and made farming much more affordable. The resulting negative environmental effects spurred the birth of the organic farming movement.


The term was first coined by Walter James in his book “Look to the Land”, in which he spoke of a natural and ecological approach to agriculture. He focused on the ‘farm as an organism’ and his ideas were fundamental in creating the global organic farming movement. Additionally, in the 1940s, the founder of the Rodale Institute, JI Rodale, provided his own information on farming methods that avoided the use of chemicals.

Rodale was inspired by Sir Albert Howard, a British scientist who spent years in India observing farming systems using green manure and waste as fertilizer. In 1943, in his book “An Agricultural Testament,” Howard wrote about the importance of using animal waste to maintain soil fertility, a concept that later became a central part of organic farming.

1950s – 1960s

In the 1950s, the sustainable agriculture movement began to gain traction due to environmental concerns. In 1962 Rachel Carson released her book “Silent Spring” which highlighted the effects of DDT and other pesticides on wildlife, the natural environment, and humans. In it, Carson called on humans to act more responsibly and be stewards of the earth instead of destroying it. The sustainable agriculture movement and Silent Spring have both had a major impact on the advancement of the organic farming movement.


In the 1970s, consumers began to become more environmentally conscious and their demand for more sustainable practices fueled the growth of the organic farming industry. With the difference between organic and conventional products now apparent, the movement aimed to promote locally grown foods. This period of history was known as the era of the polarization of agriculture into organic and non-organic categories.

However, no one could agree on approaches to managing organic farming, and therefore no universal standards or regulations for organic farming existed in the 1970s. In the United States at the time, the Organic certification programs varied from state to state.

In 1972, IFOAM was founded in Versailles, France, to build capacity to help farmers make the transition to organic farming, raise awareness of sustainable agriculture and advocate for policy changes related to practices. agro-ecological farming and sustainable development. Today, they have members from 100 countries and territories and are a leader in the industry.


The 1980s are described as a time when organic farming received national recognition in the United States. In 1980, the USDA released the Organic Agriculture Report and Recommendations with the intention of “increasing communication between USDA and organic farmers.” In 1981, the American Society of Agronomy organized a symposium on organic farming to explore the question: Can organic farming contribute to more sustainable agriculture? The response was a resounding yes from the symposium participants.

Organic farming has started to be implemented in university programs around the world. USDA scientists have also conducted research on organic agriculture with the Rodale Institute. In 1989, in Cuba, the combination of the American trade embargo and the collapse of their Soviet market led to an organic revolution. This is because they found it very difficult to import the chemical fertilizers and heavy machinery required for traditional farming, so they turned to organic farming.

In the 1980s, farmers and consumers around the world began to advocate for government regulation of organic farming. This sparked the creation of the certification standards that were promulgated in the 1990s. In the European Union and the United States, the majority of aspects of organic food production are regulated by the government.


The global organic food retail market has grown exponentially every year due to increasing consumer demand. This was the result of concerns about the safety of foods produced using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to develop a national standard for the production of organic foods. OFPA resulted in the creation of the National Organic Standards Board which would make recommendations on substances that could be used in organic production and handling. The council would also help the USDA draft regulations to explain the law to farmers, managers and certifiers. This was an important step in the organic movement as it defined the term “organic” and set site specific regulations that promoted ecological balance and the conservation of biodiversity.

2000s – 2010s

OFPA regulations took over a decade to draft and final regulations were finally implemented in 2002. In the 2000s, the global organic food market began to grow rapidly. Organic farmland increased from 11 million hectares in 1999 to 43.7 million hectares in 2014. In addition, the global market for organic products was estimated at $ 15.2 billion in 1999 and grew to 80 billion dollars in 2014. In 2014, there were approximately 2.3 million organic producers. around the world.

From 2004 to 2010, researchers found that organic products cost more than non-organic products, with a premium of over 20% for all organic products except spinach. Additionally, during the 2000s and 2010s, more and more countries around the world began to implement government-regulated organic certifications. For example, in 2002, the European Union’s organic certification was enacted to enforce strict requirements for the production of organic food.


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The global organic market exceeded US $ 100 billion in 2018, with the first country being the United States, followed by Germany and France. There are around 2.8 million organic producers worldwide, the majority of which are in India. Agricultural land has also increased to a total of 71.5 million hectares worldwide.

Global organic agriculture has also made a significant contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, criticism continued to be leveled on organic foods and their safer and / or more nutritious character than conventional foods. Additionally, some have criticized the high costs of organic foods, as they believe there is no evidence that they are more beneficial to health.

Yet organic foods continue to gain in popularity and are expected to become more affordable as production and distribution increase. Additionally, consumers are looking for new organic plant-based alternatives, such as oats and soy milk. The popularity of restaurants that cook only food with organic ingredients is also on the rise, especially in places like Bali, Indonesia. Overall, the quality, choice and affordability of organic foods continue to increase.

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