Even though the term “organic production” is popular today, the definitions of organic farming are always partial and unsatisfactory. In this paper, we report a synthesis of the debate on the concept of organic farming in Italy and Europe and revise the main differences, in terms of quality of production, energy consumption and environmental impact, in comparison with conventional farming. The historical evolution of the organic farming concept during the last decades is described and the future perspectives of this production method are presented. The following stages in organic farming evolution have been individuated: Organic 1.0, Organic 2.0 and Organic 3.0 (currently on progress). Organic 1.0 is defined as the period of organic pioneers, who developed the vision of organic agriculture (OA). Organic 2.0 is the period of growth of the sector and its marketing, characterised, in Europe, by the publication of common regulations. The four basic IFOAM principles (fairness, care, health and ecology) developed in this historical period represented a guidance for research in organic agriculture. Finally, Organic 3.0 addresses future challenges of global food production. In particular, main issues addressed are: producing sufficient healthy, safe and affordable food for the entire world population, reducing pollution and greenhouse gases emissions derived from food production, processing and trading and developing food chains driven by renewable energy and recycled nutrients. In the framework of organic production, a distinction between a so-called “conventionalised” (based on an input substitution criteria) and an agroecological approach is reported, both in open field and protected conditions. Moreover, the recently published National Strategic Plan for organic production of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture is described. A special attention is dedicated to the Research and Innovation action and to its list of nine priorities of research in organic and biodynamic agriculture. The strategic plan puts in evidence the need of a multi-actorial participated research framework, in which technical issues are faced with a multidisciplinary and systemic approach. Such an approach would help in understanding the effect produced by the various actors on other components of the system (e.g. the role of consumers’ preferences in the food chain rather than the need of the large-scale retail channel) as well as the impact of proposed changes on the concerned actors. The organic sector needs research and innovation strategies for an increase of the production added value kept by the farmers, and a reduction of the variability of economic returns. Moreover, the Strategic Plan underlines how knowledge gaps and lack of innovation hamper a solid and equilibrated growth of the sector, and recognizes the peculiarity of the Italian organic production, within the European and global framework.
Keywords: agroecology, strategic plan, innovation, participatory research