Friday, February 05, 2016

Organics - A partial answer

It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it. There's already more than enough food being produced for the world—low yields are not the root of hunger. Even with drought, waste and spoilage, there is enough to feed the worlds hungry. Organic agriculture is a relatively untapped resource for feeding the Earth’s population, especially in the face of climate change and other global challenges. Mainstream conventional farming systems have provided growing supplies of food and other products but often at the expense of other sustainability goals.

A new review of four decades of science has come to this conclusion: organic agriculture has a key role to play in feeding the world.

John Reganold, Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology at Washington State University, and doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter compared conventional and organic farming using the metrics of productivity, environmental impact, economic viability, and social well-being. Reganold and Wachter write that "no single approach will safely feed the planet. Rather, a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems is needed." 

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. In terms of productivity, they found that organic yields averaged 10 to 20 percent less than conventional—but that's not always the case. "In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils," Reganold said. "If you look at calorie production per capita we’re producing more than enough food for 7 billion people now, but we waste 30 to 40 percent of it.”

On environmental impact, organic agriculture, which now accounts for one percent of global agricultural land, is the winner, as it supports more biodiversity, creates less water pollution and greenhouse gases, and is more energy efficient. On top of that, organically managed soils can hold more carbon and can reduce erosion.

Comparing the two using the economic metric, organic is the winner again, because consumers are willing to pay more. And while both approaches have drawbacks in terms of the social well-being metric, organic still has the edge because of less exposure to chemicals for communities and farm workers.

There has to be something very wrong with an economic model that requires, to sustain itself, endless suffering.


Mike Ballard said...

Nitrogen is the very stuff of life, and the creation of so-called reactive or synthetic nitrogen by humans has driven the boom in global food production over the past century.

As you'll hear, the inorganic revolution in agricultural production led to vast increases in both population and greenhouse gas emissions. I would agree that organic farming is the way forward. I also think that seven billion is too many people for humanity to be able to live in harmony with the Earth.