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IFOAM conference "Tackling the Future Challenges of Organic Animal Husbandry" a success

Over 180 participants from more than 40 countries gathered to discuss the current state of organic animal husbandry and its future challenges at the 2nd IFOAM Animal Husbandry Conference held in Hamburg, Germany from September 12 to 14, 2012.

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Organized by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) and the Institute of Organic Farming of the Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut (vTI), the conference provided an opportunity for scientists, farmers and members of the community to meet, share ideas, and advance the state of the art of organic animal husbandry.

Gerold Rahmann of the vTI hosted the conference and provided a welcoming environment conducive to discussion. Keynote speakers included Fritz Schneider of the Bern University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, Pierre Gerber of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and Alan Savory of the Savory Institute in the United States. The three presented very different visions for the future of animal production in the face of growing population pressure and environmental problems.

Participants in the scientific workshops confirmed and recognized animals to be an important part of organic agriculture throughout the world as source of food, draught-power, fertilizer, companionship and complement and supplement to crop. Vast areas are utilized by ruminants and make valuable food for human consumption. Papers and posters presented addressed many of the challenges that agriculture currently faces: food security and safety for an ever-increasing world population, biodiversity losses, climate change, depletion of non-renewable resources, and rural development. Organic animal production has the potential to mitigate many of the problems caused by conventional agriculture. However, participants were keenly aware of that the productivity of organic and extensive systems is a challenge that may limit organic agriculture’s effectiveness.

Facilitators of the various workshops presented the research priorities that emerged. Animal health, feed conversion efficiency, animal behavior and welfare, selection of appropriate breeds and overall sustainability of farming systems with mixed crop and animal production were all seen as promising avenues for future research. Two themes expressed throughout the conference were farmer engagement and the dissemination of research results. Specific recommendations will be published as a follow-up to the conference.

One outcome of the conference was the Hamburg Declaration, approved by acclamation of the participants. In it, the organic sector strongly committed to protect animal welfare and create conditions to promote animal health through improved husbandry practices. A harmonious relationship among soil, plants, animals and humans is a must for sustainable development. Participants found it is important to find ways to produce good quality animal products that are safe and in sufficient quantities to ensure good health of human beings and earn enough income for farmers in a competitive global economy. Animal health and welfare is a crucial issue for consumers that will require improvements while maintaining a profitable and sustainable farming system.

Scientists and other development professionals face multiple challenges to sustainable agricultural development. Animal breeding, feeding, housing, animal health, management and processing of animal products must be compatible with the principles and practices of organic systems, which pose challenges to practitioners of organic animal husbandry. We need more research, more knowledge and more extension efforts so that required inputs, methods are evolved for organic animal production.

The participants approved by acclamation the Hamburg Declaration of Organic Animal Husbandry, which:

  • Recommends extensive and intensive research to be undertaken on organic methods of animal production and processing, which is possible only when budget is enhanced in this area by various agencies of government, NGOs and private sector.
  • Understands the importance of consumer awareness on food safety issues, environmental protection and animal welfare standards, which are core values in organic animal husbandry.
  • Emphasizes the goal to improve the organic animal husbandry sector to become better and more compatible with conventional systems and enhance animal health and welfare above conventional standards. The indicators must be animal related and must be measurable to convince consumer and stakeholder.

The participants recognized that organic animal farming is still evolving and has a long way to go. Another outcome of the conference was to launch a the IFOAM Animal Husbandry Alliance (IAHA), which is an informal network of persons/groups interested in support, strengthen and stimulate the development of organic animal husbandry. It is an IFOAM Sector Platform that focuses on animal husbandry and it is a think tank within the IFOAM Action Group. IAHA allows IFOAM affiliates to integrate organic animal husbandry knowledge, concerns, positions, and issues into the work of IFOAM and the organic ovement.

The 3rd IFOAM organic animal husbandry will take place in 2015 in India. Dr. Mahesh Chander of the Indian Veterinary Research Institute volunteered to host.

(Text: Brian Baker, FiBL)

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