Can organic farming really feed the world’s billions?
By Diane Hatz
Earlier this summer, United Nations expert Olivier De Schutter held a special meeting in Brussels that concluded agroecology (or sustainable farming) outperforms industrial agriculture and could be scaled up to feed the world while also protecting the environment and reducing pollution that’s contributing to climate change.
The widest study ever undertaken on agroecological approaches (Jules Pretty, Essex University, UK) concluded that this type of farming increased crop yields by 79 percent in developing countries. Successes from this type of farming can be found around Africa as well as in Cuba and Brazil.
In addition, a 2008 United Nations report, commonly referred to as the World Agriculture Report, concluded that the world must move away from chemical-dependent industrial agriculture toward sustainable farming.
Why are an increasing number of studies and reports concluding that sustainable farming is the best method to feed the world and ourselves? Here are five of a multitude of reasons:
1. Higher yield. 286 projects in 57 developing countries, representing 37 million hectares, were studied, and the average crop yield gain was 79%. In the United States and UK, studies have shown that organic crop yields equal industrial yields and are sometimes even higher.
2. Less chemicals used. Farmers use manure from their animals to fertilize the soil, as well as crop rotation systems, thus minimizing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers. In addition, through planting specific crops next to each other and introducing certain types of insects and birds, chemical pesticides are not used.
3. Costs less money. Because chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not used, sustainable farming has less overhead costs. In addition, investments in expensive equipment do not have to be made.
4. Job creation. With so many people around the world needing work, small-scale farming not only provides food for many but jobs as well.
5. Self-sustenance. Many experts are concerned that by 2050 we will have over 9 billion mouths to feed and not enough food on the planet, but this seems more a push for unnecessary technologies like genetic engineering than reality. Right now, there is more than enough food to feed the planet, so why do we continue to have problems with hunger, especially in such food-rich countries as the United States? The problem with hunger is poverty and access to food, not the amount of food produced. If people around the world were trained and given the chance to grow their own food sustainably, we would not see the amount of hunger and starvation we currently see. These individuals would not only become self sufficient, they would have opportunities to create income through selling excess food they produce to their local community.
Sustainable farming also decreases our reliance on foreign oil, protects the environment, and slows down climate change. This system of agriculture is also not dependent on unproven and potentially dangerous technologies such as genetic engineering.
So why aren’t governments and industry investing in sustainable farming? Money. So much money is tied up in the industrial food complex, including the chemical, oil, and biotechnology industries, that there is a great resistance to change. These companies want to retain as much control as they can over food, something every human being has a right to.
But you can send a message and make a difference every time you eat. By choosing local sustainable food, you’re not only helping the planet, you’re saying yes to a system that can end hunger around the world.
About Diane Hatz
DIANE HATZ is the Co-Founder & Director of The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming, a creative action tank that supports leaders in the sustainable food movement while solving critical problems in food and farming. She is also currently organizing TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat”, a one-day event to be held early 2011.
Readers, what’s your take on organic agriculture’s ability to feed the world’s billions? What will it take to make it a reality? Share your thoughts with Talkback!