Organic World Congress: The role of animals, seeds and new organic food systems

Different challenges with – among others – animals and seed were some of the issues discussed at the OWC 2017. Also, during the pre-conference ‘Organic Food Systems 3.0’ new and innovative ideas about food systems were discussed.

2017.11.15 | Mette Vaarst

Mette Vaarst, Merete Studnitz and Ilse A. Rasmussen (from ICROFS) at OWC


This article contains:

·         The role of animals in sustainable farming systems (Pre-conference 6th-8th Nov)

·         Challenges regarding seed diversity – a central topic for the organic movement

·         Organic food systems 3.0 (Pre-conference 8th Nov)


The role of animals in sustainable farming systems

Prior to the main OWC conference, a two-day pre-conference on the role of animals in sustainable farming systems took place. In addition to this, a one-day workshop about plant medicine in veterinary medicine took place. IFOAM Animal Husbandry Alliance (IAHA) organized both the pre-conference and workshop.

Breeds and breeding were topics that were often in focus over these days, e.g.:

  • The relevance and importance of ensuring a diversity of breeds
  • Breed for robustness, and as far as possible in ways, that they can fulfill more roles on a farm (e.g. that male animals are killed from birth, or given less priority at all times).

In addition, the importance of land-based animal agricultural systems was discussed, meaning that the number of animals should be in accordance with the land area, to meet sustainability goals in terms of ensuring system integration and avoid transportation of feed, live animals and products over long distances.  

One of the new topics, which eventually got much attention during discussions both at the pre-conference and during the conference, were systems where animals migrate, e.g. pastoralist systems, nomadic systems, or through the use of communal land, common pastures, extensive grazing areas, or nature areas. It could also be transhumance systems, where animal herds and herders moved between more locations during the year cycle. 

The discussion focused on how such systems could become part of organic systems. This discussion is relevant because many of the herds which have migrated, traditionally have had extremely important roles in terms of maintaining many of the globe’s landscapes, e.g. with permanent natural grazing areas and forests. These landscapes are important because of their carbon sequestration and as such important when finding future climate solutions.

The connection between animals and humans was discussed in many different aspects: advisory service, animal welfare assessment, the need to take care of the animals, and the importance of traditional knowledge existing among many people, but often elders, hence threatening to get lost. This knowledge often include good guidelines and e.g. suggestions to handling disease.

During the pre-conference on animal husbandry, ICROFS had a poster from the ProGrOV project, led by ICROFS since 2011. ICROFS also contributed with a presentation about health care, and facilitated one of the four discussion groups at the pre-conference (breeding and animal welfare).  

Read more about the ProGrOV-project

Challenges regarding seed diversity – a central topic for the organic movement

Our diversity of seed and plants in agriculture and horticulture is getting smaller and smaller with extreme speed, and action is very urgent. The loss of seed diversity was one of the fundamental points in many of the presentations at the 19th Organic World Conference, and it was very clear that it is a burning issue in India. A number of aspects were emphasized: 

  • The diversity is getting lost, and this makes our food poorer and less nutritious, and our agriculture becomes less resilient because we have less variety to choose between
  • The culture – food and agricultural cultures – are getting lost with the seeds
  • It has been a strong tradition for the majority of the world population to collect and exchange seeds, so that we always ensure that seeds and plants are locally adapted, and under continuous development in a local context.  

Research points to the importance of keeping the diversity, and in many places of the world, we see social, economic and environmental negative consequences of what happens when ‘uniform seeds and plants’ replace the local and more robust varieties.  

The Indian pioneer Vandana Shiva and the Navdania movement is one of India’s well-known initiatives for saving the diversity and control over seeds, and develop organic and sustainable farming systems in general. However, as it became very clear, India has a wealth of organizations and initiatives focusing on saving seeds.

There was an impressive rich and aesthetically beautiful – almost overwhelming – exhibition at the 19th OWC showing organizations, initiatives from all over India, working with seed and seed saving.

Food systems 3.0

A pre-conference to the 19th OWC was about organic food systems, with the participation from all continents and more than 40 countries, including many of the states in India. With such a range of different places and people, one must expect many different models of organic food systems, and many different local solutions to global problems connected to our food systems.  

This was exactly what this day entailed: widely different examples from different places on the globe, from small communities to entire regions that had converted their food production to organic, and now tried to make food systems work within the region.   

The necessity to adopt our diet and food consumption to what can actually be produced in a given area – big or small – was emphasized several times, and research on diet showed that this was also quite in accordance with what could be characterized as ‘healthy diets’.

Some of the characteristics, which in addition to this could describe what could be called ’an organic food system’, were: 

  • They have to be inclusive – that means, accessible for all irrespective of gender or social class
  • Equity in all aspects
  • The systems should reflect true costs and responsibility accounting
  • There should be knowledge among consumers / citizens about ’healthy diets’
  • That there are strong relations between the different links in the ’value chains’
  • That the systems are transparent

This pre-conference was organized and coordinated by ’Organic Food System Program’ (OFSP), which is an initiative acknowledged under the UN 10YFP Sustainable Food Systems Programme: ’Organic food systems as models and living laboratories for transformation processes towards sustainable food systems’.

The entire discussion about organic food systems is rapidly expanding – more and more people and movements see the importance to combine issues about our diets, or footprints and the way in which we produce and exchange food, as a greater picture. Partnership and involvement with OFSP can potentially give new exciting input to future relevant focus areas for research and partnerships.  

Read more about the 19th Organic World Congress

Agriculture and food
Tags: Organic World Congress 2017, ICROFS