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Can organic farming feed the world?

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A summary of research suggests that organic agriculture could potentially supply global food needs.

By The Organic Consumers Association Posted Jan 30, 2009

Ecological agriculture is indeed productive, especially so in developing countries.

A key question that is often asked about ecological agriculture, including organic agriculture, is whether it can be productive enough to meet the world’s food needs. While many agree that ecological agriculture is desirable from an environmental and social point of view, there remain fears that ecological and organic agriculture produce low yields.

Below is a summary by Lim Li Ching, a researcher with Third World Network, of the available evidence to demystify the productivity debate and demonstrate that ecological agriculture is indeed productive, especially so in developing countries.

A recent study examined a global dataset of 293 examples and estimated the average yield ratio (organic : non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and developing world (Badgley et al., 2007). For most of the food categories examined, they found that the average yield ratio was slightly less than 1.0 for studies in the developed world, but more than 1.0 for studies in developing countries.

On average, in developed countries, organic systems produce 92% of the yield produced by conventional agriculture. In developing countries, however, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms.

On average, in developed countries, organic systems produce 92% of the yield produced by conventional agriculture. In developing countries, however, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms.

With the average yield ratios, the researchers then modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. They found that organic methods could hypothetically produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without putting more farmland into production.

Moreover, contrary to fears that there are insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers, the data suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use.

In a review of 286 projects in 57 countries, farmers were found to have increased agricultural productivity by an average of 79%, by adopting “resource-conserving” or ecological agriculture (Pretty et al., 2006).

A variety of resource conserving technologies and practices were used, including integrated pest management, integrated nutrient management, conservation tillage, agroforestry, water harvesting in dryland areas, and livestock and aquaculture integration into farming systems. These practices not only increased yields, but also reduced adverse effects on the environment and contributed to important environmental goods and services (e.g., climate change mitigation), as evidenced by increased water use efficiency and carbon sequestration, and reduced pesticide use.

… the data suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use.

The work built on earlier research, which assessed 208 sustainable agriculture projects. The earlier research found that for 89 projects for which there was reliable yield data, farmers had, by adopting sustainable agriculture practices, achieved substantial increases in per hectare food production – the yield increases were 50-100% for rain-fed crops, though considerably greater in a number of cases, and 5-10% for irrigated crops (Pretty and Hine, 2001).

This model suggests that organic agriculture could potentially provide enough food globally, but without the negative environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.

For the entire article, please click on the Source Link below

Source: Organic Consumers Association

Posted in Food and Health Tags , , , ,
  • Kallie Senior

    Please Please tell me Dale Senior, what did you use 50 years ago to fertilize the land? This environment was highly sustainable until technology took over and the Industrial Age began! At the rate we are going the United States will be one huge dust bowl full of dead dirt within the next 50 years!

  • Bart

    Not the right question! And there is plenty of land if managed and shared properly. Globally, both "conventional" farming and organic or modified organic food production systems will have a place in feeding the world. The caloric energy needs of the world's population will be met best by first addressing the uneven distribution of existing food production. The best thing coming out of the grow local eat local movement is that more land now growing food for export markets can be targeted for production of food to be consumed locally by landless or land poor or urban landless.

    Population control = educated women controlling reproduction

  • http://tim@materialscienceorganics.com OrganicDude

    Organic agriculture is the key to our survival. Chemical laden conventional agriculture is harmful to the land and to us.

  • http://www.rotatorcuffpainrelief.org Rico Angeletti

    I'm all for organic farming, but I know that statistics can be easily manipulated to "prove" anything and I'd like to see more about the details of this study before I'd entirely believe this. It also sounds like too small a data set considering the scale and the number of variables. That aside, I do hope to see an increase in organic so it becomes a standard instead of a novelty.

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