ISF International Seed Federation

Sustainable Agriculture

How does ISF understand "Sustainable Agriculture"?

ISF understands sustainable agriculture as the evolving management and conservation of the natural resource base in any given region, and the global orientation of technical and institutional change, in such a manner as to ensure the steady attainment and continued, safe satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations.

A sustainable agriculture must attempt to sustain all biodiversity through a blending of innovation and traditional local knowledge.

A balanced diversity of sustainable systems must be encouraged which share the objectives of reasonable environmental management, conservation of land, water, air, plant, animal and energy resources, technical appropriateness, economic feasibility and social acceptability.

How does ISF respond to the demand for "Organic Seed"?

Organic seed has different meanings and, depending on people, may refer to:

  • Seed of any variety produced organically, i.e., according to organic production standards
  • Seed of varieties specially adapted to organic agriculture and developed through any breeding techniques, except recombinant DNA, available to plant breeders
  • Seed of so-called ‘organic varieties’ bred using methods that don’t “break the continuity between the soil and the plant”. This definition of breeding methods prohibits all in-vitro techniques (see also ISF’s position paper on Plant Breeding for Organic Farming)

Recently many countries have passed legislations that call for the compulsory use of seed that has been organically produced (category a. above) (see European Union and US legislations) for crops to be certified as having been produced organically.

During the international Organic Seed Conference held in Rome in July 2004 several speakers reported that the production of organic seed in sufficient quantity, quality and varietal diversity is challenging for several reasons: lower yields/ha, seed quality concerns such as germination and vigour, seed health and physical purity. Nevertheless, production in most cases is possible although in many cases more expensive.

In response to the demand from the organic sector, companies of ISF members have been supplying organic seed. However, they have incurred additional investment (e.g. start-up and inventory) and faced regulatory and market uncertainties. Inconsistency in the enforcement of regulatory requirements has been a particularly difficult issue. Reducing uncertainties through a consistent enforcement of regulations and producing organic seed under contract would encourage companies to increase the availability and range of organic seed.

What is "Monoculture"?

The term monoculture is used in the two following contexts:

  • agricultural system(s) where the same crop is grown over several seasons on the same field, without crop rotation. An extreme example is some forms of paddy rice cultivation where rice has been grown over several centuries on the same field. Monoculture has developed in parallel with the industrial revolution in countries with fewer and fewer farmers and an increasing urban population to feed. Uniformity of crop is generally sought to facilitate mechanization and improve the quality of the harvested product
  • in opposition to ‘associated culture’, mainly in tropical countries, where a single crop is grown in a field, regardless of crop rotation. According to some views, associated culture would better exploit soil, water and incident sunlight resources. However, it makes agriculture mechanization very difficult, if not impossible

Both monoculture and ‘associated culture’ can be extensive or intensive, and have the same level of sustainability. The choice does not depend on sustainability factors, rather on socio-economic ones.

What is "Organic Agriculture"?

Sensu stricto, “organic agriculture” is an agricultural management system without any input resulting from a synthesis process. More recently, various regulatory definitions have been given to organic agriculture, mainly based on restrictive use of off-farm inputs.

Organic agriculture, sensu stricto or sensu lato, may or may not be sustainable according to the way it is implemented, and to socio-economical environment in which it is developed. For instance in many parts of the world where population is growing at a high rate, and seen from the perspective of food security and environmental protection organic agriculture is probably not going to be a sustainable solution.

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ISF Secretariat - Chemin du Reposoir 7 - 1260 Nyon Switzerland

tel +41 22 365 44 20 - fax +41 22 365 44 21 -