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Can organic farming feed the world?

May 24th, 2011 | By | Category: Linking Farmers to Markets

A widely discussed issue relating to feeding the world’s growing population is the debate between conventional farming VS. organic methods. A special ‘food report’ by the Economist a few weeks ago made their view very clear. They argue that organic farming could feed Europe and America but not the rest of the world.

This debate is extremely clear cut. For example, the biotechnology and agribusiness perspective would argue there is no alternative to using GM crops. Moreover, it is perceived that without large inputs of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, food supply would automatically decline due to crop loss as a result of weeds and pests.

On the other hand, there are a growing band of academics, practioners and smallholder farmers who disagree with this view. For example, a report from the University of California provides some insightful case study examples of comparisons between organic and conventional farming methods. According to the author, the experiments showed, ‘the ability of organic agriculture to produce comparable yields’ to convention methods and ‘organic farming systems have proven that they can prevent crop loss to pests without synthetic methods.’

Moving beyond a simplistic organic vs. conventional systems approach, there are some who argue for a synergy between both. For example, Don Seville, Co-director of the Sustainable Food Lab believes it is more worthwhile to try and increase organic practices (use of compost, biomass, rotations with legumes, and integration of animal manure) in conjunction with artificial fertilizer and pesticides. The goal would be to increase organic fertilisation, without necessarily trying to ensure the strict certification standards of ‘organic’ are met. This appears to be an ideal middle way approach.

When talking about ways to feed the world population and which production techniques are the best we must be cautious. In today’s context, approximately 925 million suffer from hunger and as I have mentioned in previous articles, this is mainly a result of poverty, distribution and wastage of crops during production. Therefore, we need to focus on these problems in conjunction with production techniques. Without a doubt, there is a definite need to integrate sustainable farming methods to promote soil and water conservation. This is necessary in order for land to continue being productive for the years to come. We must also be weary of proponents of purely conventional methods, as the real focus to feed people may be overrun by business interests.

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3 Comments to “Can organic farming feed the world?”

  1. Beth Timmers says:

    I was both surprised and relieved to see this coming from the UN:

    It’s nice to see agroecology being represented at the top!

  2. Guthrie says:

    Just thought I would let you know fertilizer is spelled wrong a few times. And that conventional corn yields about 300 bushels per acre where as organic yeilds about 150 bushels per acre. And convention dairy cows yield about 100+ lbs of milk per day whereas organic cows average about 50-70 lbs of milk per day and that is on the generous side.

  3. Ashraf says:

    Quality Vs. Quantity.
    Would not high quality organic food along with the right consumer education do. Why are we concerned with quantity when it always should have been quality. I do not need to eat meat daily, however, today’s business made consumer culture drives for the consumption of meat almost daily.
    The issue is bright as light, we need consumer education and quality products.
    The wrong economics are driving us to the brink of madness. Poising the soil and disturbing the balance will not ensure higher yelled, regardless of promised or achieved quantities.

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