Washington State University researchers have concluded that it is possible to feed a growing world population with sustainability goals in mind. 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.
The summary study, “Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century”, is featured on the cover of the February issue of the journal natural plants and was authored by John Reganold, professor of soil science and agroecology and PhD candidate Jonathan Wachter. This is the first study of its kind to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four sustainability goals identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economy, environment, and human well-being. the community.
“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic farming should play a role in feeding the world,” said Reganold, lead author of the study. “Thirty years ago, there were only a few studies comparing organic farming to conventional farming. In the last 15 years, these types of studies have exploded.”
Organic production currently accounts for only one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth over the past two decades.
Critics have long argued that organic farming is inefficient, requiring more land to produce the same amount of food. The position paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.
“Under severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields due to the greater water-holding capacity of soils grown organically,” Reganold said. .
However, even when yields may be lower, organic farming is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices may be justified as a means of compensating farmers for the provision of ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.
Numerous studies in the journal also prove the environmental benefits of organic production. Overall, organic farms tend to store more carbon in the soil, have better soil quality, and reduce soil erosion. Organic farming also creates less soil and water pollution and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. It is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides such as pollination and improves the ability of agricultural systems to adapt to changing conditions.
Reganold said feeding the world is not just about yield, but also requires looking at food waste and food distribution.
“If you look at calorie production per capita, we’re currently producing more than enough food for 7 billion people, but we’re wasting 30 to 40 percent of that,” Reganold said. “It’s not just about producing enough, but about making agriculture environmentally friendly and ensuring food gets to those who need it.”
Reganold and Wachter suggest that no one type of agriculture can feed the world. Rather, what is needed is a balance of systems, “a mix of organic and innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed cropping/livestock farming and still unknown”.
Reganold and Wachter recommend policy changes to overcome barriers that impede the expansion of organic agriculture. These barriers include the costs of transitioning to organic certification, lack of access to labor and markets, and lack of appropriate infrastructure to store and transport food. Legal and financial tools are needed to encourage the adoption of innovative and sustainable agricultural practices.
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Material provided by Washington State University. Original written by Sylvia Kantor. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.