How Funding Research and Extension can Accelerate the Uptake of Organic

Over a two-year period, we studied examples of public support provided to organic agriculture in more than 80 countries and launched the results in a one-of-a kind global policy toolkit. We documented numerous ways to promote organic agriculture on a policy level and also highlighted the impact these policies have when put into practice e.g. Tunisia is a good example of how sound policies on research and extension can lead to outstanding results.

Allocate More Funding to Organic Research and Extension Services

To tap into the full potential of organic farming systems and utilize the benefits organic brings to people and the planet, policy-makers should allocate more funding to organic research and farm extension services.

Scientific research can play a major role in accelerating the uptake of organic agriculture by:

  • Increasing the sustainability, productivity and competitiveness of organic farming systems.
  • Researching organic solutions to specific local agronomic problems, one of the major barriers for farmers keen to transition to organic.
  • Providing scientific evidence of the multiple benefits of organic agriculture to support awareness raising campaigns targeting both consumers and policy-makers.

Benefits for the Organic Sector and Beyond

Polices promoting research and innovation in organic agriculture also benefit the conventional sector by increasing the overall sustainability of all agriculture and food production. For example, new methods of biological control are used not only in organic systems, but also in integrated pest management. Another example is Participatory Guarantee Systems, a social innovation from the organic sector, which is being increasingly researched for its potential to expand into other sectors.

Participatory Guarantee Systems are local alternatives to third party organic certification whereby the certification is carried out by the stakeholders such as producers and consumers in a participatory manner. It is often used to link small – scale farmers to local markets giving consumers access to locally produced, organic food.

Linking Farmers and Researchers

Farmers play an instrumental role in the knowledge transfer process, often guiding and advising researchers. In return, they should be supported and encouraged by research and extension services. In fact, a study carried out by Wheeler shows just how important it is to invest in building relationships between researchers, extension workers and farmers.

By analyzing the influence of market and policy factors on the share of organic land in 61 countries, it was found that the availability of organic advice by publicly funded extension personnel was one of the factors with the largest influence on organic farming adoption at the early stage of sector development, while national organic research activities become the most influential factor at later stages of development.

Tunisia –  Putting Policy into Practice

Since enacting its organic law in 1999, the Tunisian government has taken a very proactive role in supporting organic sector development with outstanding results. Key success factors included, the establishment of several institutions with budgetary autonomy and permanent allocation of public funds.

The Regional Center of Research in Horticulture and Organic Agriculture (CRRHAB) was established in 1999. It houses the Tunisian National Organic Agriculture Research Laboratory, which is responsible for conducting and disseminating research on all aspects of organic horticultural production systems for Tunisia’s Eastern region, where most organic operations are located.

The Technical Centre of Organic Agriculture (CTAB) was also established in 1999 by Ministerial decree. It conducts applied organic research and provides training and extension services for organic operators and staff of other support organizations. CTAB adapts the results of CRRHAB’s research for practical application by organic operators in their local conditions. CTAB also oversees trials for the endorsement and registration of different organic inputs and maintains a list of approved inputs on its website.

Other governmental bodies are also involved in organic research, such as the Institution of Research and Higher Agricultural Education (IRESA), which created the National Commission for Planning and Evaluation of Organic Agriculture Research. This body’s activities include working with stakeholders involved in the organic sector with a view to addressing their operational problems through research. Several professional groups receive government funds to collaborate with research institutions on activities such as organic input development.

The National Program for Organic Agriculture has also established organic extension services in various districts of the country. Since 2003, thanks to a collaborative project between FAO and the various aforementioned Tunisian public institutions, the concept of farmer field schools has been extensively used in Tunisian organic extension.

The various government bodies active on organic research and extension (and more broadly on organic agriculture) work in tight collaboration, ensured through their respective institutional linkages, which includes membership on one another’s boards and committees.

The establishment of organic research and extension institutions with budget autonomy and sufficient funding, as well as their interlinking, are factors that explain the success of the Tunisian government’s policy on organic research and extension.

Go to page 49 of the policy toolkit to find out what other countries are doing to promote organic agriculture by investing in research and extension.

Together, with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Future Council (WFC) we are now looking for the world’s best agroecology policies which will be honored with the Future Policy Award. The call for nominations is now open.

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