My early morning taksi (taxi) takes me across the bridge from Asia into Europe across the great Bosphorous River. My excitement is barely contained at the thought of a World Organic Congress! This is the IFOAM’S 18th Organic World Congress, convened every three years by the global organic community. Lucky for me, this year Istanbul is the host city, with its delicious backdrop of tastes and flavors!
IFOAM stands for International Federation of Organic Movements. Members of the international organic community have gathered here to discuss issues, seize opportunities and plan for solutions. I feel very much at home even though I barely know any of the 1,000 souls attending. Over the course of several days there are 3 plenary and 8 breakout sessions with more than 250 presentations of wildly impressive personalities. There are scientists, practitioners, trainers, farmers, processors, innovators and traders all providing their latest insights. It just feels good to be in the presence of so many who are working to increase organic agriculture all over the planet.
The opening plenary sets the stage: Building Bridges! Christine Feber speaks about the common good and how economies should serve that rather than being a means unto itself. According to the United Nations Food and Ag Organization (FAO), the real cost of conventional food is actually three times what we pay. There are many hidden costs to the environment, health and social implications that are only realized later. Our own Kathleen Merrigan, formerly the Deputy Secretary for the USDA, spoke about the many things that excite her in the U.S. organic environment. She gave us the under 35 challenge: to mentor at least three people under 35 and help them understand and participate in the organic movement. Activating our youth is one of the best strategies to an organic future. They will encounter and solve problems we cannot even think of.
I have the honor of speaking on a panel, or fish bowl session, which aims to understand why the potentials of organic agriculture are not utilized on a larger scale for the alleviation of poverty and improved livelihood in developing countries. We identify the main challenges to achieving these goals and explore how they can be addressed. Organic agriculture is an important way for rural and small family farmers to feed themselves and achieve better living conditions through organic trade. Learning to sell organic products from the global south into the north is a recognized path to better living and social conditions. My work with Fair Trade and organic growers has shown me this can be true!
Even here in Turkey the organic market is growing and flourishing, providing better income and enhanced living conditions. The growth and potential displayed with organic Turkish products is one of the reasons the Congress was held here.
Another fascinating session is called Innovations that Change the (Organic) World. OTA Executive Director Laura Batch participated in this fantasy discussion held in the year 2020. Organic had achieved over 10% of the market and even McDonald’s was serving organic meats! The panelists were interviewed as participants in this growth and asked to identify how it had occurred. Farmers had converted to organic agriculture in droves because of governments recognizing conventional agriculture just wasn’t sustainable. Organic certification was free and rewarded. Solutions to climate changes were realized by converting to organic. Research and science was funded and conducted to help organic producers increase yields while increasing sustainability. The true cost of food was factored in which made organic cost less in the marketplace while giving organic farmers a fair return. It is a utopia future that we can actually envision! This is why we have all come together!
Many big ideas were presented during the conference. My biggest takeaways were: it’s not about feeding the world so much as about teaching the world to feed itself; organic agriculture is a vehicle for enhanced income, better nutrition and improved livelihoods through stewardship of the planet; we must work with governments on the local and global level to help secure incentives; we must interact with organizations such as the United Nations Food and Ag Organization to help small stakeholders achieve organic independence.
As an organic citizen it is my responsibility to be active and vigilant so that organic agriculture achieves more than 1% of the global market. The people and the planet really depend on it. IFOAM is here to assist this process and change the world.