Research strategy of the German Agricultural Research Alliance (DAFA) for the development of the organic farming and food sector in Germany


The Federal Government of Germany regards organic farming as particularly resource-efficient and environmentally sustainable economic activity. It therefore supports the expansion of organic farming up to 20% of the agricultural area. Against this background, the German Agricultural Research Alliance (DAFA) together with a broad alliance of representatives from business, science, and public policy developed this research strategy in a theme-finding and prioritization process that ran over more than 2 years. It sets out how German agricultural research can make a substantial contribution to noticeably improving the performance and competitiveness of organic food and farming while at the same time helping the sector meet its own goals and be an example as an especially sustainable type of economic activity in terms of the four international umbrella organization of the organic world (IFOAM) principles of organic farming (health, environment, fairness, and care).

The DAFA recommends that three approaches be pursued in parallel: (1) focusing of research on the most important themes, (2) the establishment of efficient structures for research and funding, and (3) more funding for research on organic farming. The following most important research topics in crops were identified: plant breeding tailored to the need of organic agriculture, plant–microbe and plant–plant interactions, autonomous field micro-robots, alternative control of fungal diseases and management of nutrients, and soil fertility. In organic livestock production, the most important topics are to meet competing goals in production systems, to ensure optimum supply of essential amino acids in poultry, and to foster successful animal production by implementing research-practice networks. In addition, progress in the processing of organic foods and the transfer of trustworthiness features as well as reinforcing organic principles in the food chain are needed. It is called for new research and funding structures which are no longer strictly time limited; for research-practice network offering “co-learning” between farmers, advisors, and researchers; for real transdisciplinary funding instruments; for model regions to facilitate transfer of advancement of research and knowledge as well as for federal and state co-funded university chairs. However, these prerequisites for 20% organic agriculture can only be achieved by a parallel increased funding by the governmental authorities.

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Following the decision by the General Assembly of the German Agricultural Research Alliance (DAFA) to set up an Expert Forum for the organic farming and food sector, an impulse group established at the end of 2013 led the management of the Expert Forum and authored this report. T.M. and M.E. provided support from the DAFA office.

The strategy paper is the result of a comprehensive participative process involving representatives from the private sector, science, and public policy. Important milestones of this participatory process were:

• Initiation event at BioFach 2014 in Nuremberg (February 2014)

• Written survey of organic food sector stakeholders (May 2014)

• First workshop “Finding a way together” in Berlin (June 2014)

• Publication of the first draft strategy for consultation (February 2015)

• Second workshop on topic-finding and prioritization in Berlin (May 2015)

• Publication of the second strategy draft for consultation (November 2015)

• Discussion of the third draft strategy at the BMEL Forum for the Future Strategy of Organic Farming in Plankstetten (June 2016)

• Production of the final research strategy for final agreement (October 2016)

• Approval of the strategy by the DAFA Annual General Meeting (end of 2016)

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Correspondence to Stefan Lange.

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Hamm, U., Häring, A.M., Hülsbergen, K. et al. Research strategy of the German Agricultural Research Alliance (DAFA) for the development of the organic farming and food sector in Germany. Org. Agr. 7, 225–242 (2017).

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  • Agricultural politics
  • Consumer behavior
  • IFOAM principles
  • Organic agriculture
  • Strategic development