Updated: Dec 24, 2021
It was the fall in Versailles when a group of international participants (five, in total) arrived at the first meeting of a “big national conference” that the president of the French organic society Nature et Progrès, Roland Cheviot, had organized, and to which he had invited over fifty organizations from around the world. This conference decided, with the collective assent of its attendants from the United States, South Africa, France, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, to conform itself into a new formal organization: the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, or IFOAM, from its initials. The date was 1972, nearly fifty years ago.
The original letter was sent by Roland Cheviot to the first invitees to the IFOAM conference of 1972. Only five groups responded and attended, and became the inaugural five members of the organization.
Today, IFOAM – Organics International (the new official name of the organization, chosen in 2015) articulates the collective needs and desires of over 800 different members, hailing from a total of 117 countries. Their work spans all the main areas for the promotion of organic agriculture, from facilitating production to stimulating demand, to participating in the formation of national policies on organic agriculture and offering certifications for national certifiers themselves, all the way from country-wide certification bodies to locally-based Participatory Guarantee Systems (PSG) and other strategies designed to help smallholders get their own organic certification. In fact, among its policy and regulation initiatives, the IFOAM leads the single accreditation program for national certification bodies to exist at this date, guaranteeing that certifiers are certified themselves and that their approval implies a real commitment to the principles of organic agriculture. These and other IFOAM activities are detailed in the organization’s Strategic Plan 2017-2025, entirely available online (in fact, the IFOAM’s transparency is one of the reasons why it was ranked first among all NGOs by OWT’s Global Accountability Report in 2008).
The growth of the International Federation, 1972-2009 (by John Paull, from the University of Tasmania).
The usefulness of the work that the people at the IFOAM do is immensurable for organic growers. Not only through certification and policies, which help to build consumer trust in an ‘organic’ brand that is at risk of being coopted and stripped of its meaning, but through creating knowledge hubs in Africa to promote education in organic practices, aiding organic smallholders in developing value chains for their products, and helping people in mountainous regions exchange techniques and expertise on growing diverse food to improve their nutritional intake. Its work is substantial and ongoing, and increasing awareness of it (with the consequent stream of new members joining the organization) can in turn increase the strength of its voice globally and the impact of its actions, all the way to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where the IFOAM represents all organic farmers worldwide. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements forms, in this way, the institutional backbone for the global organic movement, and for the creation of an Organic Agriculture 3.0 that is inclusive, impactful, and meaningful to big and small producers around the world.