(Beyond Pesticides, May 23, 2007) Organic agriculture may play a role in the fight against world hunger. Researchers say a large-scale switch to organic is expected to meet food demand while greatly reducing the expensive and harmful synthetic chemicals that have been introduced globally via industrial agriculture.
Professionals gathered at the United Nation’s International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security on May 3-5 in Rome. Covering a vital issue, the conference represents a change in the paradigm of food security.
Due to figures that indicate crop yields can initially fall with the conversion from industrial to organic farming (a decrease that often evens out over time), the organic farming movement has largely been on the sidelines in regards to discussions about feeding the hungry. However, studies discussed at the conference reveal the potential of organic agriculture to meet these needs.
Researchers from Denmark have predicted that food security in sub-Saharan Africa would not be seriously harmed if 50 percent of agricultural land in the food exporting regions of Europe and North America were converted to organic by 2020. The potential rise in world food prices from such a shift can be mitigated by improvements in the land and other benefits, according to the researchers.
A similar conversion in the actual region would also be beneficial because it could reduce the need to import food to the sub-Sahara, said Niels Halberg, a senior scientist at the Danish Research Center for Organic Food and Farming. Other benefits include the use of methods that would eliminate the need for the region’s farmers to come up with money for expensive chemicals, such as pesticides, and would encourage the growth of more diverse and sustainable crops. Additionally, if certification is made available, any surplus of organic foods can be exported at favorable prices.
Alexander Mueller, assistant director-general of the Rome-based United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), praised the models predicted by the Danish researchers and noted that projections indicate the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow.
Considering that the effects of climate change are expected to hurt the world’s poorest, “a shift to organic agriculture could be beneficial,” he said.
Research has shown that organic agriculture can be part of the solution to reducing global carbon emissions, and thus can be a valuable tool in fighting global warming. Paul Hepperly, Ph.D., a speaker at the National Pesticide Forum, has studied the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, the world’s longest running study of organic farming, and has documented that organic soils actually scrub the atmosphere of global warming gases by capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and converting it into soil material. This was the first study to differentiate organic farming techniques from conventional agricultural practices for their ability to serve as carbon “sinks.”
Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, an FAO official who organized the conference, pointed to other studies she said indicated that organic agriculture could produce enough food per capita to feed the world’s current population.
One study produced by the University of Michigan predicts that a global shift to organic agriculture would yield at least 2,641 kilocalories per person per day, just under the world’s current production of 2,786, and as many as 4,381 kilocalories per person per day.
“These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental impacts,” Ms. Scialabba said in a paper presented to the conference. However, she stressed that the studies were only economic models.
The United Nations defines organic agriculture as a “holistic” food system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, minimizes pollution and optimizes the health of plants, animals and people. It is commercially practiced in 120 countries and represented a $40 billion market last year, according to Ms. Scialabba.
For more information, read the papers submitted for the conference.
Source: Associated Press