World’s top organic farming nations – and the global giants that fall short

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Which nations are best positioned to profit from the worldwide trend towards buying ‘organic’? The answers, as detailed in a new global report, might surprise you.

Organic fruit and vegetables: demand for organically-farmed produce is growing worldwide, bringing gains to 'green' producers.
Organic fruit and vegetables: demand for organically-farmed produce is growing worldwide, bringing gains to 'green' producers.
Peyri Herrera, Flickr CC, wwwflickrcomphotospeyri

Organic foods, drinks and supplements are a rapidly growing market across the west and increasingly, among well-heeled Asian and Latin American consumers, as scientific evidence of the health and medical benefits of ‘organic’ foods and drinks accumulates.

And the more consumers choose to forgo conventionally grown and processed food and drinks in favour of pricier but ‘purer’ alternatives, the more organic producers stand to gain.

So which nations are best positioned to profit from the global ‘organics’ trend? Those with the greatest area of arable land devoted to organic farming; the greatest percentage of organic farmland, or the most profitable organics markets?

The world of organic agriculture

In 2013, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) and Europe-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) investigated the amount, proportion and output of agricultural land devoted to organic farming in 170 countries across the globe, detailing their findings in comprehensive report The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Emerging Trends (2015).

The report’s authors defined ‘organic agriculture area’ as the total area, in hectares, of tracts of land that are ’certified organic’ and fully converted to organic farming, as well as land currently under conversion to organic farming methods.

AUSAid volunteer on Vietnamese organics project.
AUSAid volunteer on Vietnamese organics project.
Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs

In 2013, the FiBL-IFOAM report found, there were 43.1 million hectares of organic agricultural land globally, including ‘in-conversion’ areas. That’s not to mention the world’s significant ‘wild collection’ areas, also deemed organic and constituting more than 35 million hectares globally.

The Oceania region – Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands – has by far the largest amount of organic agricultural land on the planet: a healthy 40 percent of the global total in 2013; 42 percent if you count the vast amount of extra Aussie rangeland turned over to organic beef farming in the past three years.

Europe is a major player, with 11.5 million hectares and 27 percent of the world’s total agricultural land, while Latin America claimed 6.6 million organically-farmed hectares and 15 percent of all organic farmland.

Trailing them were:

  • Asia, with 3.4 m hectares, or eight percent of the global total, most of it in China and India;
  • North America (the US and Canada), with a combined 3.1 m hectares – seven percent of the world’s total organic farmland; and
  • Africa, with 1.2 m hectares or three percent of the world’s total, most of it in Uganda.

Greatest amount of organic land

If sheer amount of land devoted to organic production determines a country’s place in the global organics hierarchy, Australia is clearly top dog, reporting a whopping 17.15 million hectares or nearly 40 percent of all designated-organic farmland on Earth in 2013.

In 2014, this percentage was boosted to 42 percent; of the nearly six million hectares of organic farm and grazing land added to the world’s total, more than 80 percent of it was Aussie rangeland “coming under the organic production umbrella”, the FiBL-IFOAM report’s authors note.

Beef cattle range across a vast area Down Under: 97 percent of Australia's 17.2 million-odd hectares of organic agricultural land is used for grazing.
Beef cattle range across a vast area Down Under: 97 percent of Australia's 17.2 million-odd hectares of organic agricultural land is used for grazing.
CSIRO

Now claiming nearly 22 million hectares of certified organic agricultural land, Australia has more than double the combined organic acreage of the world’s other top-ranking nations: Argentina (3.4 million hectares); the US (2.2 m ha); China (2.1 m ha); and Canada (0.9 m ha).

Not to gloat about it, we have more land dedicated to organic production than do Europe, Africa and North America put together.

The vast majority – around 97 percent – of Australia’s organic land is grazing land for premium grass-fed beef. The other three percent is used for the production of premium dairy produce, top-flight wine grapes, healthier grains and chemical-free fruit, veg, herbs, nuts and oils.

For a more detailed look at Australia’s organics sector and outlook, read AgInnovators’ feature on the Aussie organics boom and The Australian Organic Market Report 2014.

Greatest expansion of organic land

In 2013, all regions except Latin America reported increases in the amount of agricultural land used for organic production, found the FiBL-IFOAM report. Australia added the most, expanding its organic lands by 53 percent – almost all of it rangelands, coming into organic production to meet buoyant demand in export markets for organic beef.

By contrast, the area of European land turned over to organic farming expanded by three percent to around 300,000 hectares in 2013; that across Africa rose by almost 80,000 hectares, or seven percent; Asian organic production areas grew more than 200,000 hectares (6.5%), while the amount of agricultural land converted to organic farming across North America expanded by just one percent.

Greatest proportion of organic land

When it comes to proportion of agricultural land devoted to organic farming, Australia comes in round about the middle of the pack at a respectable 4.2 percent, beating out France (3.9%), and well outranking agricultural heavyweights US (0.6%) and China (0.4%).

We have a way to go to catch up with forward-thinking European nations – and we’re light years from unlikely first-ranked nation, the far-flung Falkland Islands, where more than a third (36.34%) of agricultural land is used for organic production.

USDA organic=certified beef cattle.
USDA organic=certified beef cattle.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Organic sectors using the most land

Livestock

The FiBL-IFOAM report data showed that 27 million hectares or two-thirds of the world’s organic land consisted of extensive grassland and grazing areas used for organically farmed beef cattle, sheep and other livestock.

Annual crops

Arable land accounts for at least 7.7 million hectares, or nearly 20 percent of the organic agricultural land on Earth, with the FiBL-IFOAM report authors citing an increase of almost three percent in the world’s organic arable land over 2012-2013. The world’s arable organic land is used primarily for growing:

  • cereal grains, including rice (3.3 million hectares);
  • green fodder (2.4 million hectares);
  • oilseed crops (0.8 million hectares);
  • vegetables (0.3 million hectares); and
  • protein crops (0.3 million hectares).
Organic tomatoes such as these are proving a profitable commodity.
Organic tomatoes such as these are proving a profitable commodity.
US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Permanent crops

Only around seven percent of the world’s organic agricultural land (3.2 million hectares) is used to grow permanent crops, but these tend to be high-value crops. They include:

  • coffee, with more than 0.7 million hectares, constituting almost one quarter of the organic permanent cropland;
  • olives (0.6 million hectares);
  • nuts (0.3 million hectares);
  • grapes (0.3 million hectares); and
  • cocoa (0.2 million hectares).

Greatest number of organic producers

In 2013, states the FiBL-IFOAM report, there were nearly two million organic producers worldwide, more than a third (35%) of them in Asia and a further 29 percent in Africa. Around 11.7 million hectares – a quarter of the agricultural land on the planet – and more than1.7 million, or 80 percent of the world’s organic producers, are in developing countries and emerging markets, notably India (650,000), Uganda (189,610) and Mexico (169,703).

Australia reported a comparatively modest 11,000-odd organic producers.

Global organics market – who’s selling, who’s buying?

The sector has been gaining momentum over the past two decades: revenue from sales of organic products has increased almost fivefold since 1999, with global sales of organic food and drink reaching US$72 billion in 2013, and the Organic Monitor predicts further growth in coming years.

Currently, Europe and North America generate more than 90 percent of global organics sales, with the US, Germany and France the world’s largest individual markets and Switzerland, Denmark and Luxembourg having the highest per-capita organics consumption. Denmark is the world leader in organics market share, with eight percent.

Australasia, Latin America and Africa have become key producers of organic agricultural crops but their domestic organics markets are comparatively small.

This is set to change in however, as the market for premium organic foods, beverages and nutraceuticals expands among China’s expanding moneyed class. Data on the domestic market for organics in China was included for the first time in the latest FiBL-IFOAM report. It totalled 2.4 billion euros in 2013 and seems likely to grow significantly as well-heeled Chinese consumers become increasingly concerned about food safety and quality.

Demand for organic products, fresh and processed, is also growing across Australia and New Zealand.

About the report

The 16th edition of The World of Organic Agriculture, published by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), documents recent developments in global organic agriculture. It includes contributions from representatives of the organic sector from throughout the world and provides comprehensive organic farming statistics that cover surface area under organic management, specific information about land use in organic systems, numbers of farms and other operator types as well as selected market data.

The book also contains information on the global market for organic food, information on standards and regulations, and insights into current and emerging trends for organic agriculture in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Oceania.

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