Multifunctionality in organic farming

Organic agriculture seeks to apply the concept of multifunctionality in practice in specific work and living spaces, including biodiversity, indigenous species and breeds, animal care, but also repopulation of rural areas, and increasing social and economic standards of living. This way of food production is important for the sustainable development of rural areas.

Therefore, especially in transition countries facing a number of economic problems (disintegration of large agricultural and industrial complexes, layoffs, high unemployment, inflation, imports of foreign substandard food), organic agriculture is important for the state and society, especially rural, for several reasons:

  • Establishes a relationship between biodiversity and socio-cultural heritage of rural areas (thus creating a basis for the development of rural tourism)
  • Encourages the connection between protected natural areas and agriculture (within national parks and nature parks it is possible to practice only an organic way of agricultural production), which creates a basis for the development of ecotourism.
  • Within its own region, it encourages the consumption of organically “healthy” food and thus reduces energy and transport costs.

One of the ways in which farmers strive to enter the market and achieve better product competitiveness and thus income is certainly the shift to organic agriculture.

Apart from food production, agriculture also creates numerous other (non-market) functions that should not be neglected. It is these non-market functions that are the basis for the creation of the agricultural system known as “multifunctional agriculture”.

Proponents of such a system believe that it would be fair to reward those farmers who, to a greater or lesser extent, contribute to the development of non-market functions in the form of subsidies. Non-market functions or benefits are reflected through:

– contribution to the vitality of rural communities (through the maintenance of family agriculture, rural employment and cultural heritage);

– biodiversity;

– recreation and tourism;

– health and conservation of soil and water;

– bioenergy;

– landscape;

– quality and safety of food and animal welfare;

The emphasis on ‘multifunctionality’ is to point out the added value that agriculture can produce, in addition to the food that farmers sell in the market.

Those benefits can be defined quite broadly, but generally include values for the rural community such as a large number of independent family farms, strong local economies that provide agricultural goods and services, rural employment, and the maintenance of rural culture. Environmental benefits that are often mentioned include contributions to biodiversity, clean water and air, bioenergy, improved soil quality. Protecting the soil and the environment is a key task for organic farmers, as fertile soil is a basic resource for successful production of food of high nutritional value. Therefore, organic agriculture is increasingly present as a significant economic activity in protected natural areas and national parks. This, in addition to preserving biodiversity, autochthony of varieties and breeds in such areas, encourages a new economic activity: agri-eco tourism. In addition, such areas are sought to be preserved from rural decay due to depopulation.

Educating producers and consumers develops attitude towards genetically modified organisms, percieved as a constant threat to biodiversity and human health. However, such concepts are quite abstract to the ordinary inhabitant of rural areas, , so it is necessary to work on raising awareness. The multifunctional role of agriculture, and its connection with the development of agriculture and the economy as a whole should be explained to farmers and also to  actors in rural tourism, . For small farmers at the countryside, it is extremely important to understand the connection between agricultural production and the preservation of tradition, cultural heritage, nature protection and multipurpose land use.

Only then do new perspectives open up, when a small agricultural producer becomes a privileged user of the diverse potentials of agriculture that he can offer to interested visitors through rural tourism services.