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Study Indicate That Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Can Feed The Planet

The never ending debate as to whether organic food production could actually feed the globe is back at the debate table. And the data culled for this latest report suggests that turning to increased organic food production to feed the globe isn’t really a far-fetched idea. Washington State University researchers have concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. Their review of hundreds of published studies provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment and be safer for farm workers. Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. The review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.

The report, Organic Agriculture for the 21st Century, authored by Washington State University Regents Professor of Soil Science and Agroecology John Reganold and doctoral student Jonathan Wachter, looks at the efficacy of organic and non-organic farming according to the four pillars of sustainability: economics, environment, productivity and community well-being. Organic production currently accounts for only one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth in the last two decades.

Organic agriculture, sometimes called biological or ecological agriculture, combines traditional conservation farming methods with modern farming technologies. It emphasizes rotating crops, managing pests naturally, diversifying crops and livestock, and improving the soil with compost additions and animal and green manures. Organic farmers use modern equipment, improved crop varieties, soil and water conservation practices, and the latest innovations in feeding and handling livestock. Organic farming systems range from strict closed-cycle systems that go beyond organic certification guidelines by limiting external inputs as much as possible to more standard systems that simply follow organic certification guidelines.

Organic agriculture, says Reganold and Wachter, can meet the needs of tomorrow’s populations. He states that hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic [agriculture] should play a role in feeding the world having looked at 40 years of conventional and organic farming in the study and maintains that even with the effects of climate change, “organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils.”

The study concludes that production yields can be lower with organic farming. The end result in nutrition, environmental benefits and lack of pesticide residues, they argue however, offers strong unique benefits vital for adequately feeding an increasing population. The paper states there’s initial evidence indicating that organic agricultural systems deliver greater ecosystem services and social benefit that result into a healthier planet and community. Findings by Khan presented at the Conference of the Association for Heterodox Economics, Nottingham Trent states that there is every indication that the productivity of the industrial agricultural system will have diminishing yields as the agricultural environment is degraded, and as a result require more energy-intensive chemical inputs to maintain the level of yields that have already been achieved.

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Sustainability of organic agriculture

About 38% of Earth’s land cover is occupied by agriculture. Although agriculture provides growing supplies of food and other products, it is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, biodiversity loss, agrochemical pollution and soil degradation. Most of these environmental consequences come from arable land, which comprises around 12% of the land cover. The challenge of feeding a growing population expected to reach 9 to 10 billion people by 2050 while protecting the environment is a big challenge. The adoption of real sustainable farming systems on a wide scale is our best opportunity for meeting this need and making sure of future food and ecosystem security.

The unsustainability of conventional agriculture has promoted interest in other farming systems, such as organic, integrated and conservation agriculture. According to a US National Academy of Sciences report, any farm, be it organic or conventional, can only be deemed sustainable if it produces adequate amounts of high-quality food, enhances the natural-resource base and environment, is financially viable, and contributes to the wellbeing of farmers and their communities. With the rise of organic farming in the past two decades, hundreds of research studies comparing different aspects of organic and conventional farming systems have been published.

There has been some debate in the past as to whether organic farming is adequate for rain-watered crops like fruit trees, alfalfa and beans. Researchers in a rain-restricted country however, have been working to address that issue and have been finding that the challenge isn’t the availability of rain, but the watering techniques. New technology now allows farmers to manage the irrigation of fruit trees and save water, as well as regulate the water demands of large crops without flood irrigation.

The researchers state that national and international policies largely govern the success of organic agriculture. At the present time, the team says, only about one percent of the world’s food production is grown organically. Options that would incentivize and make it easier for farmers to grow organically, they say, include:

• Establishing economic incentives to adopt better conservation methods and more sustainable livestock production
• Increasing technical support for farmers to educate them on the benefits of more innovative organic farming methods
• Incentivize public funded-research into sustainable farming methods

They further suggest that a careful blend of organic and innovative farming that takes advantage of the “ABCs” of sustainable farming is the answer towards achieving the goal of feeding the world. Employing sustainable techniques that take in the principles of organic agriculture can enhance food production for the planet’ growing population and protect and nurture the planet’s environmental balance at the same time.