Study defines the impacts of organic farming on the environment

Organic farming is often considered to be more environmentally friendly compared to traditional farming when it comes to the food production system.

Feed the whole world

One of the greatest challenges of our time is to produce enough food to provide adequate nutrition for the growing world population without destroying the planet. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach almost 10 billion, but more than 811 million people still go to bed hungry every night.

A potential solution is considered organic farming. The target to achieve 25% organic farmland in the region by 2030 is part of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, which puts agriculture at the center of its aim to adapt a system more sustainable food production.

As part of what the Commission has called a new era for the transformation of food and farming systems towards organic and agroecology, the EU Organic Action Plan also sets out a plan to increase demand for organic products .

The use of chemical inputs in conventional agriculture, among other practices, can harm wild insect populations. This could be good news for biodiversity. However, concerns about declining yields, along with the consequent need for more land to farm, have sparked discussions about whether organic farming can produce enough food to feed the world while still providing benefits. environmental.

The question of whether organic farming is still the best use of land has recently come to the forefront of research.

In a recent study, the Center for Ecological Research and various universities developed a method to help farmers and policymakers determine whether switching from conventional to organic farming will increase biodiversity while maintaining productivity. The trade-off between yield and biodiversity within the same area would be quantified for the first time in a global meta-analysis.

Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool land use expert and corresponding author of the study, Dr Yi Zou, pointed out that their comprehensive land use meta-analysis identifies the most beneficial course of action for farmers. and the environment.

Additional land needs

The debate between ‘land sharing’ and ‘land saving’ has arisen out of concern that the need for additional land from organic farming could negate the resulting biodiversity gains.

Dr. Jenny Hodgson, a member of the research team, explained that the land-sparing strategy uses farmland intensively for high-yield agriculture to leave the most space to maintain the high biodiversity in the land. natural. On the other hand, agricultural land is carefully managed and conserved in a biodiversity-friendly way in the land sharing strategy. However, to produce as much as in intensive agriculture usually requires more land.

To determine a threshold where increased biodiversity from organic farming and land sharing is beneficial despite the additional land it requires, researchers analyzed land yield and biodiversity in 75 international studies.

Importantly, they discovered that the solution is highly context-dependent. According to the study, the threshold is determined by the amount of biodiversity already present on the additional land that would need to be developed for agriculture to compensate for yield losses caused by the less productive nature of organic systems.

Shanxing Gong, the study’s first author, pointed out that their results show that if uncultivated land is less than 2.4 times richer in biodiversity than cultivated land, switching to organic farming would be a more viable strategy. efficient. Naturally, this value depends on the situation and varies from region to region. In areas where species richness is lower in the remaining uncultivated habitats, switching to organic farming and land sharing is probably the best use of land.

Read also: Focus on sustainability: a diet for more ethical consumption

What crop and where to grow

The study found that the impact of organic farming on biodiversity and yield depends on the species measured and the crops grown, further complicating the calculation.

In cereal crops such as oats, barley, wheat and maize, the overall decline in yield is comparable to the increase in biodiversity that results from conversion to organic farming. While birds were less affected, there was a noticeable increase in the number of plant and invertebrate species.

In contrast, switching to organic farming shows no appreciable yield loss in non-grain crops like vegetables and coffee, but there is an increase in biodiversity.

This indicates that some produce can be grown organically without requiring additional land to produce the same yield.

Zou explained that it might be possible, depending on the crop, to switch to organic farming for greater biodiversity gain with little or no yield loss. Under these circumstances, switching to organic farming is beneficial for both parties.

The researchers pointed out that this threshold is only a guide and that other elements, such as the landscapes of the environment and the variety of biological agriculture practices, can also impact the benefits of organic farming. For example, it has been noted that moderate-intensity fertilization of non-grain organic crops can increase yield and biodiversity.

According to Gong, their study is only the beginning of our understanding of this trade-off. The abundance of protected species, farmers’ incomes and crucial ecosystem services such as carbon absorption, pollination and soil protection should be taken into account in the study.

As the majority of existing studies have been conducted in developed countries, Zou added that the team wants to promote more research examining the trade-off between yield and biodiversity in developing countries.

In conclusion, whether organic farming is more environmentally friendly depends on what is grown and where it is grown, food browser reports.

Related article: According to a study, which are better for bees, organic farming or flower strips?

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