The First World Conference on Organic Seed (Rome, 5 to 7 July 2004) has been jointly organised by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the umbrella organisation for the organic movement, the International Seed Federation (ISF), a non-profit organisation representing commercial plant breeders, and FAO.
Around 300 participants from private companies, non-governmental and farmers' organisations, scientific institutions and government agencies are expected to attend.
Certified organic agriculture represents less than two per cent of agricultural land worldwide (about 44 million acres or 18 million hectares), half of which is pastureland, but the sector is constantly growing, FAO said. Global organic food retail sales amounted to around $23 million in 2003, with an annual growth rate of 8 per cent in Europe and 12 per cent in the US. Over 100 developing countries are exporting certified organic products.
Higher consumer demand, an increasing interest by supermarkets, and government programmes stimulating organic production are the driving forces behind the growth of the organic sector.
Organic producers are, however, facing problems. Conventional varieties and seeds often perform poorly under the low-input conditions of organic agriculture, resulting in low yields. The seed industry offers only a very limited range of seed varieties suitable for organic production. New requirements by the European Union, to use organically produced seed in organic production, are therefore difficult to meet.
Developing countries are still facing difficulties in exporting organic products to developed countries. Further requirements to use organic seeds may exacerbate their access to organic markets in industrialised countries, FAO said.
The production of quality seeds, the safety of seeds, the harmonisation of seed regulations and certification systems, issues of economic efficiency and biodiversity will be the main topics of the conference. This includes also the relationship between genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and organic production, gene flow, liability, and the coexistence between the two farming systems.
The aim of the conference is to provide a discussion forum for knowledge and information exchange between farmers, individuals operating throughout the organic supply chain, scientists, the seed industry and policy makers.