The Ultimate Glossary of Terms About Organic Farming

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

The ultimate glossary of organic farming terms

New to the world of organic farming?

Welcome! Great to have you here. It's always a win whenever someone starts to look at organic farming practices.

But, we know this can be a bit daunting, especially for those who do not have an agricultural background.

At the best of times, the terms used around the farm can be confusing, and organic farming can compound this by adding another layer with unique terms.

So, we thought we'd help ease your learning by putting together this glossary of terms, adapted from the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations' Glossary on Organic Agriculture, making it easier for you to navigate the world of organic farming.

Glossary of Organic Farming Terms

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Z


Abiotic: Non-living. Abiotic resources comprise nonliving things, for instance, land, water, air and minerals.

Adapted to local conditions: The ability of organic farming, pastoral and wild harvest systems to fit into the cycles and ecological balances in nature. Organic management must be adapted to local conditions, ecology, culture and scale of operations.

Adaptive management: Management practices that promote a system’s ability to take advantage of opportunities or cope with problems occurring in the environment. Considering the high level of variability within and between ecosystems, and the reliance of organic agriculture on local ecological balance, adaptive management is a central strategy. In organic agriculture, uncertainty does not only apply to biophysical variability but also to lack of knowledge and advisory services necessary to improve agricultural performance. Spontaneously, and in “learning by doing”, organic farmers improve their management approach and through observation and experimentation, they determine the best management strategy within their own context, including available capabilities, resources and institutions.

Agricultural biodiversity: The component of biodiversity that is relevant to food and agriculture production. The term agrobiodiversity encompasses genetic species and ecosystem diversity.

*Sometimes referred to as: agricultural biological, diversity agrobiodiversity, agro-biodiversity

Agricultural biomass: Non-fossil biological material, either from plant or animal origin, both living and dead, found above or below ground vegetation, including agricultural products and waste by-products, manure, soil fauna or microbial biomass used as food, feed, fuel or for soil amendment.

Agricultural by-product: It includes, among others, maize cobs and stalks, wheat stalks and husks, groundnut husks, cotton stalks, mustard stalks, etc. Definition: Vegetal or animal material and by-product derived from production, harvesting, transportation and processing in farming areas.

Agricultural ecosystem: A semi-natural or modified natural system managed by humans for food and agricultural production purposes.

*Sometimes referred to as: agroecosystems

Agricultural intensification: Refers to any practice that increases productivity per unit land area at some cost in labour or capital inputs. One important dimension of agricultural intensification is the length of the fallow period (i.e. letting land lie uncultivated for a period) and whether the management approach uses ecological or technological means.

Agricultural product: Any product or commodity, raw or processed, that is used for human consumption (excluding water, salt and additives) animal feed or energy production (e.g. biofuel crops) and industry (e.g. textiles, bioplastics).

Agriculture value-added: Annual growth rate for agricultural value-added based on constant local currency. Aggregates are based on constant 1995 U.S. dollars. Agriculture corresponds to the International Standard Industrial Classification (ISIC) divisions 1-5 and includes forestry, hunting, and fishing, as well as cultivation of crops and livestock production. Value added is the net output of a sector after adding up all outputs and subtracting intermediate inputs. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or depletion and degradation of natural resources.

Agri-environmental measure: Special measures applied in order to promote the protection of the farmed environment and its biodiversity. Agri-environmental measures support specifically designed farming practices, going beyond the baseline level of "good farming practice" that help to protect the environment and maintain the countryside.

Agritourism: Agritourism is a style of vacation in which hospitality is offered on farms. Agri-tourism can refer to various kinds of small farms seeking to diversify their enterprises to strengthen their financial position.

Agrochemical: Agrochemicals are commercially produced, usually synthetic, chemical compounds used in farming such as a fertilizer, pesticide or soil conditioner. In organic agriculture, agrochemicals are banned and any use of substances for soil fertilization and conditioning, pest and disease control, for the health of livestock and quality of the animal products, or for preparation, preservation and storage of the food product should comply with the relevant national regulations.

Agro-ecological knowledge: Ecological knowledge refers to what people know about their natural environment, based primarily on their own experience and observation. Agro-ecological knowledge refers to farmers' knowledge of ecological interactions within the farming system.

Agro-ecology agroecology: Agroecology is the science and practice of applying ecological concepts and principles to the study, design and management of the ecological interactions within agricultural systems (e.g. relations between and among biotic and abiotic elements). This whole-systems approach to agriculture and food systems development is based on a wide variety of technologies, practices and innovations including local and traditional knowledge as well as modern science.

Agro-ecosystem stability: In general, stability (of the ecosystem) refers to the capability of a natural system to apply self-regulating mechanisms so as to maintain its balance in the face of an outside disturbance.

Agro-ecotourism: Eco-agritourism combines rural tourism (agritourism) and ecological tourism (eco-tourism) with farm hospitality and enjoying neighbouring natural landscapes.

Agroforestry: A collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land management unit as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence. In agroforestry systems, there are both ecological and economic interactions between the different components.

Animal immunity: The state of relative insusceptibility of an animal to infection by disease-producing organisms or to the harmful effects of their poisons.

Antibiotic-free: When no antibiotic drugs have been given to the animal in its feed or by injection.

Autochtonous: Existing, born, or produced in a land or region.

Avoidance costs: The actual or imputed costs of preventing environmental deterioration by alternative production and consumption processes, or by reduction of or abstention from activities.

In organic agriculture, a typical avoided cost is pollution by synthetic agricultural inputs, as well as avoided health costs to workers due to inappropriate handling of pesticides. This leads to avoided pollution abatement costs and medical expenses.


Beneficial association: An association of plants, animals and microorganisms is called beneficial when complementarity is achieved with respect to nutrient and energy up-take. Associations can take different forms: from companion planting to arrangements between members of different species such as symbiosis and parasitism.

Biologically-based product: Biologically-based products are liquids, powders and/or granules that contain as their main active ingredient any source of beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.) that help protect the plant from pests and diseases and/or help to enhance plant growth. These types of products include: biopesticides, inoculants, soil conditioners, biostimulants, etc

Biodiversity: The variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

Biodynamic agriculture: Biodynamic agriculture considers both the material and spiritual context of food production and works with terrestrial as well as cosmic influences. The influence of planetary rhythms on the growth of plants and animals, in terms of the ripening power of light and warmth, is managed by guiding cultivation times with an astronomical calendar. All organic principles apply to biodynamic farming, gardening and forestry.

A specific feature of biodynamic agriculture, inspired by Rudolf Steiner (1861- 1925) is the regeneration of the forces that work through the soil to the plant by using compost and spray preparations from naturally fermented organic substances in minute doses to soils and crops. The aim is to harvest crops which not only have substances but also vitality. The use of biodynamic preparations has been shown to have substantial restoration power on exhausted soils and biodynamic animals seem to have better resistance to infection.

Bio-ecotourism: Refers to ecological tourism combined with organic agritourism, where organic farm services include organic food and hospitality in buildings constructed with ecological materials and farm infrastructures including environmentally-friendly structures such as waste recycling, renewable energy and other environmentally friendly structures.

Organic agritourism is committed to organic farming as well as to energy saving; reduction of air emissions; improvement of the use of water and reduction and recycling of wastes. It is important that the organic agritourism establishes a connection with the active elements and actors of the territory so as to create a real network connecting territory, culture and traditions. Organic farms can be organic agritourism offering to tourists a variety of activities which: contribute to the conservation of nature, biodiversity and cultural heritage; respect the integrity of ecosystems and habitats; benefit local communities; use environmentally-sound technologies; minimize the production of waste and encourage recycling; encourage the use of public and non-motorised transport.

Bio-educational farm: An organic farm dedicated to educational activities. A bio-educational farm is committed not only in ensuring naturalistic services to guests but also didactical ones in order to make people participate and have a deeper knowledge of organic lifestyles, including tending animals, cooking and artisanal crafting.

Biofertiliser: A biofertilizer is a natural fertilizer that helps to provide all the nutrients required by the plants and to increase the quality of the soil with a natural microorganism environment. For instance, the production and use of biofertilizer (e.g. seaweed products; compost) is proposed to improve crop yields by using root nodule bacteria (rhizobia), mycorrhizal fungi, and other microorganisms that are able to increase the accessibility of plant nutrients from the soils. Related Terms: nitrogen fixation; biocontrol agent; biological pest control; organic fertilization; farmyard manure; organic manure; compost; humus.

*Sometimes referred to as: biological fertilizer, organic fertilizer

Biological pest control: Biological control is a method of controlling pests, diseases and weeds in agriculture that relies on natural predation, parasitism or other natural mechanisms that restrain the development of pathogenic organisms. The control of living organisms (especially pests) by biological means. Any process using deliberately introduced living organisms to restrain the growth and development of other, very often pathogenic, organisms, such as the use of spider mites to control cassava mealybug. The term also applies to the use of disease-resistant crop cultivars. Biotechnology approaches biocontrol in various ways, such as using fungi, viruses or bacteria, which are known to attack an insect or weed pest.

*Sometimes referred to as: biocontrol, biological control

Biomass: The total weight of all the biological material or the combined mass of all the animals and plants inhabiting a defined area; usually expressed as dry weight per area.

Buffer zone: A clearly defined and identifiable boundary area bordering an organic production site that is established to limit the application of, or contact with, prohibited substances from an adjacent area.


Carbon capture: Conversion, through photosynthesis, of atmospheric carbon leading to the long-term storage of carbon in the soil and in living and dead vegetation. Carbon stored can offset carbon dioxide released. Therein lies the possibility of agriculture providing a valuable service to society by storing carbon that offsets the carbon dioxide that is emitted by other sectors.

*Sometimes referred to as: carbon sequestration

Carbon trading: is a form of emissions trading that allows a country to meet its carbon dioxide emissions reduction commitments, often to meet Kyoto Treaty requirements, in as low a cost as possible by utilising the free market. It is a means of privatising the public cost or societal cost of pollution by carbon dioxide.

Catch crop: A rapidly growing plant that can be intercropped between rows of the main crop; often used as green manure.

Certified organic agriculture: Certified organic agriculture refers to agricultural systems and products that have been managed and produced in accordance with specific standards or technical regulations and that have been inspected and approved by a certification body.

Certified organic farm: Any farm whose adherence to organic farming practices is certified against organic standards.

Certified organic food: Foods are produced according to organic agriculture standards. For crops, it means they were grown based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility and crop health without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste, or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives. For animals, it means they were reared without the routine use of antibiotics and without the use of growth hormones. Organic produce must not be genetically modified. Products usually are certified by a third-party certification body recognized at the international or national level, hence accountable in the case of fraud. Certification is made against the standards of the country where the product is sold. Certified organic food is recognized on the market by the organic label of the certification body.

Certified organic wild area: Refers to the organic certification of naturally grown plants in an approved and clearly defined collection area. The area itself is not certified. Plant products which grow in the wild can be certified as organic, but not every plant collected in its natural habitat can be considered as organic, as the natural habitat may be contaminated. Standards on organic wild collection require a clean collection area, sustainable collection and full traceability. The people who harvest, gather or wildcraft shall not take any products at a rate that exceeds the sustainable yield of the harvested product, nor threaten the ecosystem stability or the existence of plant, fungal or animal species, including those not directly exploited.

Chain of custody: The concept that all relevant steps in the production chain including the growing, handling, processing and other processes have been inspected or certified as appropriate. In the traceability process, the chain of custody refers to the steps needed as a whole to trace a product from the source to the consumer.

Climate change: A change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is, in addition to natural climate variability, observed over comparable time periods.

Climate change adaptation: Adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation.

Climate change mitigation: Intervention or policies to reduce the emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. The current international legal mechanism for countries to reduce their emissions is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Climate variability: Climate variability refers to variations in the mean state and other statistics (such as standard deviations, the occurrence of extremes, etc.) of the climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events.

Coexistence: Co-existence refers to the ability of farmers to make a practical choice between conventional, organic and genetically modified (GM) production, in compliance with the legal obligations for labelling and/or purity criteria. The possibility of adventitious presence of GM crops in non-GM crops cannot be dismissed and may have commercial implications for the farmers whose crops are affected. Consequently, suitable measures during cultivation, harvest, transport, storage, and processing may be necessary to ensure coexistence. The European Commission passed non-binding guidelines on coexistence in 2003. The differences in the level of implementation and in the practical form of national coexistence legislation are therefore great.

Companion planting: Crops that are planted close to one another to achieve some mutual benefit such as repelling insect pests or attracting beneficial insects, shade, wind protection, support, or nutrient enrichment.

Compost: A mixture of decaying organic matter, as from leaves and manure, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients.

Conservation: Includes protection, maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration and enhancement of populations and ecosystems. This implies sound biosphere management within given social and economic constraints, producing goods and services without depleting natural ecosystem diversity.

Conservation agriculture: Conservation agriculture aims to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and subsequently aims at improved livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations.

Conservation of natural resources: The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and of natural resources such as forests, soil, and water. Conservation of natural resources is usually embraced in the broader concept of conserving the earth itself by protecting its capacity for self-renewal. It may be defined as the protection of natural resources and landscapes for later use.

Conservation tillage: It is a practice used in conventional agriculture to reduce the effects of tillage on soil erosion, however, it still depends on tillage as the structure-forming element in the soil.

Contaminant: Any substance not intentionally added to food, which is present in such food as a result of production (including operations carried out in crop and animal husbandry), manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food or as a result of environmental contamination. The term includes chemical and biological substances not desirable in food but does not include insect fragments, rodent hairs and other extraneous matter.

*Sometimes referred to as: pollutant

Conventional agriculture: What is accepted as the norm and is the most dominant agricultural practice. Since World War II, (mainly in the industrialized world), conventional agriculture has become an industrialized form of farming characterized by mechanization, monocultures, and the use of synthetic inputs such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with an emphasis on maximizing productivity and profitability and treating the farm produce as a commodity. In large parts of the developing world, agriculture is still "traditional", ranging from well-managed polycultures to extensive and eroding pastures.

Conversion period: The conversion period is the time between the start of organic management and the certification of crops or animal husbandry as organic. It is the time taken to clean-up chemical residues, if any, left behind in the soil by previous agricultural techniques and re-establish the ecological balance (2-3 years) necessary for soil fertility and pest-predator balance. The start of the conversion period shall be calculated from the date of application to the certification body or, alternatively, from the date of the last application of unapproved inputs, provided that the operator can demonstrate that the requirements of the full standard have been met for at least the minimum period of 12 months prior to pastures, meadows and products harvested therefrom, being considered organic. In the case of perennials (excluding pastures and meadows) a period of at least 18 months prior to harvest shall be required. The conversion period for dairy products is a minimum of 90 days and for eggs 42 days.

Corporate social responsibility: A set of management practices in businesses that aim at minimizing the negative impacts of their operations on society and at maximizing the positive impacts. A concept, whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis. CSR covers social and environmental issues, in spite of the English term corporate social responsibility. An important aspect of CSR is how enterprises interact with their internal and external stakeholders: employees, customers, neighbours, non-governmental organizations, public authorities, etc

*Sometimes referred to as: CSR

Corrective action: Action to eliminate the cause of a potential nonconformity or other undesirable situation. In organic agriculture, corrective actions are verified by the certification body, with a view to protecting the organic claim.

Cover crop: A crop grown to prevent soil erosion by covering the soil with living vegetation and roots that hold on to the soil. Cover crops are also grown to help maintain soil organic matter and increase nitrogen availability (green manure crop), and to “hold on” to excess nutrients (a catch crop) still in the soil, following an economic crop. Other benefits of cover crops include weed suppression and attraction of beneficial insects.

Crop ecology: Crop relation or interactions with its biotic (e.g. pests) and abiotic environment (e.g. soil) and which determines crop growth. Crop ecology evolved at the end of the 1920s, focusing on the study of the physical and environmental conditions in which crops were grown in order to identify the best places where to cultivate them.

Crop rotation: The practice of alternating the species or families of annual and/or biannual crops grown on a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence so as to break weed, pest and disease cycles and to maintain or improve soil fertility and organic matter content.

Cross-fertilization: Fertilization by pollen from another plant. The transfer of pollen from the flowers of one plant to the stigma of another plant. It may or may not lead to fertilization.

*Sometimes referred to as: cross-pollination, open pollination


Dehorning: Dehorning is the process of removing or stopping the growth of the horns of livestock. Cattle, sheep, and goats are dehorned for economic and safety reasons.

Some physical alterations, such as beak trimming, are prohibited by some certification bodies, while allowed by others if the practice is done to improve or maintain the health and safety of the animal. Dehorning is allowed in organic agriculture but not in biodynamic agriculture.

Diversified production: Different mix of crops, trees, animals, fish to ensure a variety of food, fodder and fibre sources and complimentary use of natural resources. It also brings more ecosystem stability. Mixed cropping is a system of sowing two or three crops together on the same land, one being the main crop and the others the subsidiaries.

Diversity: Species richness of a community or area, measured in terms of the number of different plant and animal species (often called species richness) it contains. However, the community characteristics are better assessed by the relative abundance of the species present. Diversity in ecosystems is usually equated with stability due to the climax community.

Drought-resistant crop: Crops that can dwell in conditions of water shortage. Drought-tolerant crops are selected for their resilience to drought. With the intensification of droughts caused by climate change, breeding drought-tolerant crops is important for food security. Local crops provide the gene pool necessary to select the most adapted varieties for farming under drought conditions.

Dung: Organic material that is used to fertilize the land, usually consisting of the faeces and urine of domestic livestock, with or without litter such as straw, hay, or bedding. Some countries also use human excrement ("night soil"). Though livestock manure is less rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash than synthetic fertilizers and therefore must be applied in much greater quantities, it is rich in organic matter, or humus, and thus increases soil fertility and improves the capacity of soil to absorb and store water, thereby preventing erosion. Because manure must be carefully stored and spread in order to derive the most benefit, some farmers decline to expend the necessary time and effort. Manufactured chemical fertilizers, though more concentrated and efficient, are also more costly and more likely to cause excess runoff and pollution.


Eco-labelling: Voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labelling. An "ecolabel" is a label which identifies the overall environmental preference of a product or service based on life cycle considerations. In contrast to "green" symbols or claim statements developed by manufacturers and service providers, an ecolabel is awarded by an impartial third-party in relation to certain products or services that are independently determined to meet environmental leadership criteria.

Ecological agriculture: Ecological agriculture is a management system that enhances natural regenerative processes and stabilizes interactions within local agro-ecosystems. Ecological agriculture includes organic agriculture as well as other ecological approaches to farming that allow the use of synthetic inputs.

Ecological awareness: Ecological awareness arises when people or more specifically consumers are concerned and aware of ecological issues and this can be a first step in the direction of changing attitudes towards the products they want to buy and/or their behaviours to respect the environment.

*Sometimes referred to as: environmental awareness

Ecological balance: A state of dynamic equilibrium within a community of organisms in which genetic, species and ecosystem diversity remain relatively stable, subject to gradual changes through natural succession.

Ecological footprint: The ecological footprint is a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems; it compares human demand with planet Earth's ecological capacity to regenerate it. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste, given prevailing technology and resource management practice. Using this assessment, it is possible to estimate how many planet Earths it would take to support humanity if everybody lived a given lifestyle. While the ecological footprint term is widely used, methods of measurement vary. But calculation standards are now emerging to make results more comparable and consistent.

*Sometimes referred to as: environmental footprint

Ecological intensification: Maximization of primary production per unit area without compromising the ability of the system to sustain its productive capacity. This entails management practices that optimize nutrient and energy flows and use local resources, including horizontal combinations (such as multiple cropping systems or polycultures); vertical combinations (such as agroforestry); spatial integration (such as crop-livestock or crop-fish systems); and temporal combinations (rotations).

Ecological management: The management of human activities so that ecosystems, their structure, function, composition, and the physical, chemical, and biological processes that shape them continue to renew themselves. Sometimes called an ecological approach to management.

Ecological quality: Ecological quality is defined as the overall expression of the structure and function of an ecosystem. It is expressed by a number of ecological quality elements or variables, reflecting the different parts of the ecosystem, to which conservation and use objectives or targets can be set.

Ecological resilience: Capacity of a natural ecosystem to recover from disturbance.

Ecological tourism: Travel to a pristine natural area that appeals to environmentally conscious individuals. An integral part of ecological tourism is the promotion of recycling, energy efficiency and water conservation in order to minimize their impact and conserve the environment.

*Sometimes referred to as: eco-tourism

Ecology: is the scientific study of the interrelationships among and between organisms and between organisms and all living and non-living aspects of their environment. The environment of an organism includes physical properties, which can be described as the sum of local abiotic factors such as insolation (sunlight), climate, and geology, and biotic ecosystem, which includes other organisms that share its habitat. The word "ecology" is often used more loosely in such terms as social ecology and in common parlance as a synonym for the natural environment. Likewise "ecologic" or "ecological", is often taken in the sense of environmentally friendly.

Economic efficiency: The economic efficiency of an agricultural system is determined by yield, product prices and production costs.

Ecosystem: A natural entity (or a system) with distinct structures and relationships that interlink biotic communities (of plants and animals) to each other and link them to their abiotic environment. The study of an ecosystem provides a methodological basis for the complex synthesis between organism and their environment. A complex of ecosystems is constituted of many ecosystems and is characterized by a common origin or common dynamic processes (for example, the complex of ecosystems of a watershed).

Ecosystem carrying capacity: The maximum population of a species that a specific ecosystem can support indefinitely without deterioration of the character and quality of the resource(s). Carrying capacity is the level of use, at a given level of management, at which a natural or human-induced resource can sustain itself over a long period of time. For example, the maximum level of recreational use, in terms of numbers of people and types of activity, which can be accommodated before the ecological value of the area declines. The carrying capacity of an agroecosystem may be modified by human intervention to improve environmental potential, for example by green manuring to increase soil productivity.

Ecosystem externality: An uncompensated provision of ecosystem service (positive externality) or an unpenalized negative effect on the delivery of ecosystem service (negative externality). An outside force, such as an environmental benefit or cost, not included in the market price of the goods and services being produced; i.e. costs not borne by those who occasion them, and benefits not paid for by the recipients. Some economists suggest that externalities should be internalized, if they are known to have a significant effect on the demand or cost structure of a product, that is, corrections should be made, to allow for externalities when calculating marginal cost. The marginal cost thus becomes a social opportunity cost or true cost.

Ecosystem services: The benefits people obtain from ecosystems, including provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth.

Edaphic: Of or pertaining to the soil; resulting from or influenced by factors in the soil or other substrate rather than by climatic factors. An edaphic requirement of the crop for a particular condition or range of conditions in the soil environment.

Energy efficiency: Optimizing input/output ratio of energy units to reduce economic costs and negative environmental impacts.

Energy flow: The energy flow involves the quantity of food energy entering the community through various trophic levels and the amount leaving it. It involves both the grazing food chain and the detritus food chain. The introduction into the ecosystem of energy above the level that has evolved in nature results in pollution and disruption of nutrient cycles. The flow of energy (that involves biological and non-biological agents) drives the carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Nutrients are pumped through the system by the action of photosynthesis and are again made available for recycling by the action of decomposers. Nutrients are constantly being removed or added; adding more natural substances or synthetic materials than the ecosystem is able to handle upsets biogeochemical cycles.

Enteric emission: Methane is emitted as a by-product of the normal livestock digestive process, in which microbes resident in the animal’s digestive system ferment the feed consumed by the animal. This fermentation process, also known as enteric fermentation, produces methane as a byproduct. The methane is then eructated or exhaled by the animal. Ruminant livestock (cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats) are the primary source of emissions. Other livestock (swine and horses) are of lesser importance.

Environmental and social responsibility: A concept whereby individuals or organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on communities and the environment in all aspects of their operations. In organic agriculture, the detailed definition of production, processing and marketing standards spells-out what environmental and social responsibility is in farming operations. The environmental and social responsibility of operators is recognized by granting the organic label when organic standards are adhered to.

Environmental impact assessment: A sequential set of activities designed to identify and predict the impacts of a proposed action on the biogeophysical environment and on human health and well being, and to interpret and communicate information about the impacts, including mitigation measures that are likely to eliminate risks. In many countries and organizations, new projects or legislations require an EIA before being approved for implementation.

Environmental stability: The general term of "stability" can be thought of in two ways. The general stability of a population is a measure that assumes stability is higher if there is less of a chance of extinction; this kind of stability is generally measured by measuring the variability of aggregate community properties, like total biomass, over time. The other definition of stability, referred to the environment or to ecosystems, is a measure of resilience and resistance, where an ecosystem that returns quickly to equilibrium after a perturbation or resists invasion is thought of as more stable than one that doesn't.

Environmental standard: Environmental standards are standards for materials, products and production processes to ensure that negative impacts on the environment are minimal or kept within certain limits.

Environmental sustainability: Forms of progress that meet the needs of the present generations of natural resources capital and environmental services without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Environmental viability: Refers to the capacity for survival of the natural environment, or the capacity for living, developing, or germinating under given management. The environmental viability of a farming approach refers to its (ecological) sustainability.

Environmentally friendly agriculture: Environmentally friendly agriculture includes any type of farming approach that seeks to minimize pollution and degradation of natural resources.

EquiTool: EquiTool is a tool developed by the organic community for determining equivalence between standards for organic production and processing. It contains elements and procedures, including an option for assessing an organic standard based on international standards and an option for assessing a set of (two or more) individual organic standards.

Equity: Term used for the administration of justice according to principles of fairness and conscience. The term includes both intragenerational and intergenerational equity. Intragenerational equity is the principle by which all sections of the community share equitably in the costs and benefits of achieving sustainable development. Intergenerational equity is the principle by which each generation utilizes and conserves the stock of natural resources (in terms of diversity and carrying capacity) in a manner that does not compromise their use by future generations. Equity, expressed through the principle of fairness, is one of the four principles of organic agriculture.

Equivalence: The acceptance that different standards or technical regulations on the same subject fulfil common objectives.

Erosion control: The practice of preventing or controlling wind or water erosion in agriculture, land development and construction. This usually involves the creation of some sort of physical barrier, such as vegetation or rock, to absorb some of the energy of the wind or water that is causing the erosion. Effective erosion controls are important techniques in preventing water pollution and soil loss.

Ethical responsibility: Ethical responsibility seeks to promote social welfare through standards and norms of conduct involving issues such as human rights, environmental and social justice and genetic manipulation.

Ethical trade: Trade that ensures that internationally recognized labour standards, in particular fundamental human rights in the workplace, are observed at all stages in the production and sale of goods sold.

Ethical trading refers to companies that are involved in a process of trying to ensure that the basic labour rights of the employees of their third world suppliers are respected. The Fairtrade Certification Mark, which applies to products rather than companies, aims to give disadvantaged small producers more control over their own lives. It addresses the injustice of low prices by guaranteeing that producers receive fair terms of trade and fair prices – however unfair the conventional market is. On top of the Fairtrade minimum price, the Fairtrade labelling system guarantees a premium for producer organizations or workers bodies to enable them to invest in social, economical or environmental improvements.

Experimental farm: An experimental farm presents an innovative solution approach for the development of alternative (such as organic) farming through farmer involvement in research. The farmer, or group of farmers, should, for the most part, be able to independently identify and address agricultural problems through on-farm experiments which are self-designed and implemented. Of special emphasis is that on-farm experiments are incorporated into practical operations, applying the farmer’s own equipment.

Export-oriented organic agriculture: Organic agricultural systems producing commodities for foreign markets. Usually, less concerned with local food security and local market development; profitability concerns being stronger than environmental and social advancement, export-oriented systems adhere to the lowest possible organic standards. This can result in input substitution and organic monocultures.


Factory farming: A farming enterprise where animals are raised on a large scale using intensive methods and modern equipment. This type of capital intensive animal-raising is used for chicken, egg, turkey, beef, veal and pork production, whereby, animals are restrained in a controlled indoor environment and their food is brought to them.

Fair price: In anti-dumping cases, the price to which the export price is compared, which is either the price charged in the exporter's own domestic market or some measure of their cost, both adjusted to include any transportation cost and tariff needed to enter the importing country's market. A fair price should not only cover cost of production but also make socially just and environmentally sound production possible.

Fair trade: Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.

Fairness principle: Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings. This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties - farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers.

Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life, and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality food and other products. This principle insists that animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord with their physiology, natural behaviour and well-being. Natural and environmental resources that are used for production and consumption should be managed in a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations. Fairness requires systems of production, distribution and trade that are open and equitable and account for real environmental and social costs.

Farmgate price: A basic price with the “farm gate” as the pricing point, that is, the price of the product available at the farm, excluding any separately billed transport or delivery charge.

Farmers' association: The terms "agricultural producers' associations" and "farmers' associations" are often used interchangeably. Agricultural producers and farmers include small, medium and large farmers, family farmers, landless peasants, subsistence farmers, tenant farmers, sharecroppers and indigenous and other people who work the land. The term "agricultural producers" is often used in the broad sense to include fishers and foresters. The International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) describes its member associations as "organizations owned and governed by farmers which work for farmers' interests. They are organizations by farmers for farmers. These include farmers' unions, agricultural cooperatives and chambers of agriculture. Regular election of officers is critical to the credibility and authenticity of representative farmers' organizations."

Farmyard manure: Animal droppings (faeces) mixed with straw or similar material used as bedding in sheds, barns or night yards. Animal manures are an excellent source of plant nutrients. Approximately 70-80% of the nitrogen, 60-85% of the phosphorus and 80-90% of the potassium in feeds is excreted in the manure. If heaped to rot well before use, farmyard manure does not cause crop burn, increases most crop yields and water-retaining properties of soils

Feed conversion ratio: Ratio of feed weight to body weight of animal.

In animal husbandry, feed conversion ratio (FCR), feed conversion rate, or feed conversion efficiency (FCE), is a measure of an animal's efficiency in converting feed mass into increased body mass. Specifically FCR is the mass of the food eaten divided by the body mass gain, all over a specified period of time. FCR is dimensionless, that is, there are no measurement units associated with FCR.

Fertilization: The act or process of rendering land fertile, fruitful, or productive; the application of fertilizer, either synthetic or natural.

In organic agriculture, materials, including animal manure, compost, straw, and other crop residues, are applied to the fields to improve both soil structure and moisture-holding capacity and to nourish soil life, which in turn nourishes plants. By contrast, chemical fertilizers, forbidden in organic agriculture, feed plants directly.

Food additive: Any substance not normally consumed as a food by itself and not normally used as a typical ingredient of the food, whether or not it has nutritive value, the intentional addition of which to food for a technological (including organoleptic) purpose in the manufacture, processing, preparation, treatment, packing, packaging, transport or holding of such food results, or may be reasonably expected to result, (directly or indirectly) in it or its by-products becoming a component of or otherwise affecting the characteristics of such foods.

Food culture: Food and dietary patterns that are part of the heritage of all groups and peoples. The concept refers as well to ways of growing, harvesting, preparing, and celebrating food.

Food security: Food security takes place when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (World Food Summit, 1996). The multidimensional nature of food security includes food availability, access, stability and utilization.

Food self-provisioning: Food self-sufficiency is the ability to produce most of the food a nation or a household needs and rely on it to satisfy its food needs.

Food self-reliance: The capacity to generate enough income through farming and off-farm activities in order to meet food needs. While some food may be directly consumed, cash crops allow purchasing what cannot be locally produced. Food self-reliance means more than having the capacity to grow food in-country or on-farm. It also means having the economic capacity and capital to purchase food that cannot be grown domestically.

Food stability: To be food secure, a population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security which in turn depend on environmental stability in the face of climate change and economic stability in the face of globalization.

Food utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out consumer behaviour and the importance of non-food inputs to food security.

Fossil fuel: A hydrocarbon deposit, such as petroleum, coal, or natural gas, derived from living matter of a previous geologic time and used for fuel. Fossil fuel-based inputs (e.g. nitrogen ferilizers and synthetic pesticides) used by conventional agriculture are replaced by natural resources processes in organic agriculture.

Free range: Free range is a method of farming husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. Farmers practice free range to achieve free-range or humane certification (and thus capture high prices), to reduce feed costs, to produce a higher-quality product, as a method of raising multiple crops on the same land, or for other reasons.

Functional biodiversity: Functions found in ecosystems, resulting from interactions between living organisms, their diversity and the ecosystem functions provided by the biological community. While the physical and chemical processes contributing to ecosystem functioning can be measured relatively easily (for example, by measuring nutrient concentrations), such measures do not tell much about the complex biological and physical interactions that drive the ecosystem processes. The two main areas where the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem function have been studied are the relationship between diversity and productivity, and the relationship between diversity and community stability. More biologically diverse communities appear to be more productive than are less diverse communities, and they appear to be more stable in the face of perturbations.


Genetically modified organism: A genetically modified/engineered organism means an organism in which the genetic material has been changed through modern biotechnology in a way that does not occur naturally by multiplication and/or natural recombination. For instance, a plant may be given fish genetic material that increases its resistance to frost. Another example would be an animal that has been modified with genes that give it the ability to secrete a human protein.

Genetically modified organism-free region: Zones, regions, provinces, even whole countries, where local/regional governments declared that genetically modified (GM) crops cannot be planted in order to protect conventional and organic crops, as well as wildlife, from potential GM contamination.

Global warming potential: The global warming potential (GWP) in agriculture is measured by the quantity of greenhouse gases emissions (expressed in CO2 equivalent) that an activity is likely to produce both in GHG per hectare and per tonne of commodity. GWP is a measure of how much a given mass of greenhouse gas is estimated to contribute to global warming. It is a relative scale which compares the gas in question to that of the same mass of carbon dioxide.

Organic agriculture systems contribute to reduced consumption of fossil-fuel energy (by foregoing use of nitrogen fertilizers), reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced soil erosion and increased carbon stocks, especially in already degraded soils. Greenhouse warming potential in organic systems is 29 to 37 percent lower, on a per hectare basis, because of omission of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides as well as less use of high energy feed. Methane emissions of organic rice and ruminants are equal to conventional systems but the increased longevity of organic cattle is favourable on methane emissions. Carbon sequestration efficiency of organic systems in temperate climates is almost double as compared to conventional soils, mainly due to use of grass clovers for feed and of cover crops in organic rotations.

Green manuring: Green manuring refers to a cover crop grown to help maintain soil organic matter and increase nitrogen availability. Legumes are often used because they have rhizobial bacteria living in their root nodules that are able to fix nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil. Green manure is incorporated into the soil for the purpose of soil improvement. May include spontaneous crops, plants or weeds.

Greenhouse gas: Greenhouse gases are those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere, and clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3) are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Moreover there are a number of entirely human-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as the halocarbons and other chlorine- and bromine-containing substances, dealt with under the Montreal Protocol. Besides CO2, N2O, and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol deals with the greenhouse gases sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

Grower group: Grower groups are an organized group of producers with similar farming and production systems, working according to a common marketing objective.

Growth promoter: Growth promoters are synthetic substances that are included to the feed in order to maximise growth of animals; when applied to a plant, they promote, inhibit or otherwise modify the growth of a plant. These substances are forbidden in organic agriculture.


Habitat: The place or type of site where species and communities normally live or grow, usually characterized by relatively uniform physical features or by consistent plant forms, e.g. deserts, lakes and forest are all habitats.

Harmonization: The process by which standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment on the same subject approved by different bodies establishes interchangeability of products and processes. The process aims at the establishment of identical standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment requirements.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (System): Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is a systematic preventive approach to food safety and pharmaceutical safety that addresses physical, chemical, and biological hazards as a means of prevention rather than finished product inspection. HACCP is used in the food industry to identify potential food safety hazards, so that key actions, known as Critical Control Points (CCP's) can be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk of the hazards being realized. The system is used at all stages of food production and preparation processes including packaging, distribution, etc.

Health principle: This principle points out that the health of individuals and communities cannot be separated from the health of ecosystems - healthy soils produce healthy crops that foster the health of animals and people. Health is the wholeness and integrity of living systems. It is not simply the absence of illness, but the maintenance of physical, mental, social and ecological well-being. Immunity, resilience and regeneration are key characteristics of health. The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings. In particular, organic agriculture is intended to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventive health care and wellbeing. In view of this it should avoid the use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal drugs and food additives that may have adverse health effects.

High external input agriculture: Intensive use of external non-renewable resources (fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels) generally associated with cash crop production, referred to as high external input agriculture (HEIA). HEIA farming systems are associated with the Green Revolution and are found mainly in ecologically "high potential" areas in the tropics and are most widespread in Asia.

Homeopathic: An alternative to allopathic medicine, which heals the body by stimulating its own immune system and regulating its metabolism. Homeopathy (homoios = like; pathos = suffering), first expounded by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796, treats a disease with heavily diluted preparations that are serially diluted.

Humus: Decomposed, dark brown and amorphous organic matter of soils, having lost all trace of the structure and composition of the vegetable and animal matter from which it was derived. Humus hence refers to any organic matter that has reached a point of stability and which is used in agriculture to amend soil.


Indigenous ecological knowledge: There is no universally accepted definition of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in the literature. The term is, by necessity, ambiguous since the words traditional and ecological knowledge are themselves ambiguous. In the dictionary sense, traditional usually refers to cultural continuity transmitted in the form of social attitudes, beliefs, principles and conventions of behaviour and practice derived from historical experience. However, societies change through time, constantly adopting new practices and technologies, and making it difficult to define just how much and what kind of change would affect the labelling of practice as traditional.

Indigenous knowledge: Indigenous knowledge (IK) is the local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. IK contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities. Indigenous information systems are dynamic, and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.

Indigenous strategy: Strategy designed for applicability to the local and specific needs of a specific area and/or local community.