Eco-friendly, organic agriculture can both improve livelihoods across the globe and help protect the planet’s natural resources; harnessing untapped potential for helping farmers and consumers alike build resilience to food price shocks, climate change, and water scarcity. So what’s stopping it?
What exactly is “organic agriculture?”
According to The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), organic agriculture is any “production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.”
IFOAM furthers its designation by stating that “organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment.”
Organic agriculture holds untapped potential for helping farmers and consumers alike build resilience to food price shocks, climate change, and water scarcity.
For instance, organic “agroforestry” (combination of agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy and sustainable land-use systems – Wikipedia) in western Tanzania has helped rehabilitate some 350,000 hectares of desert land over the span of two decades.
In Ethiopia, coffee farmers are learning how to protect wild coffee plants, fertilize them using organic compost, and process them in a manner that retains the quality of the crop, without damaging the environment.
By turning to organic “agroforestry” and switching from synthetic to organic fertilizers, farmers are not only raising their incomes by reducing input costs, but also adapting to the effects of climate change and helping to protect the environment.
With so much positive potential, what are the drawbacks?
High cost of expansion
It is no surprise that organic food simply costs more, from supplier to buyer; this price premium can dissuade consumers from buying organic products despite the potential environmental, ethical, and health benefits these products provide.
Increasing farmland prices are also putting a considerable strain on organic agriculture; the International Food Policy Research Institute reports that foreign investment to the amount of nearly $30 billion since 2006 has hiked the price for viable land. These price hikes are threatening global food security and are especially detrimental to small-scale farmers’ ability to enter the organic agriculture field.
Lack of a global standard
But although organic agriculture is practiced around the world, certified/regulated organic agriculture tends to be concentrated in wealthier countries – countries whose populations can very simply afford to be choosy with what the grow, buy and eat.
For instance, the Group of 20 (or simply “G20” as it is more widely known) – which is comprised largely of industrialized countries – is home to almost 90% of the global certified organic agricultural area. However, nongovernmental organizations, including Slow Food International and ACDI/VOCA, are working with farmers to promote organic agriculture in developing countries as a means of bettering livelihoods and rejuvenating the land.
Meanwhile, very few equivalency agreements – contracts between two countries that acknowledge each other’s organic standards and allows for a smooth flow of certified organic goods – actually exist.
For more information on innovations in agriculture that can help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment, visit Worldwatch’s www.NourishingthePlanet.org.
Source: Terracurve (Joe Ascanio)
Organic farming can be as productive as conventional farming and far better at building healthy soil. A UN study founding that eco-agriculture could double output by the poor. As a consumer, we need to support certified organic products wherever possible- better for our health and better for the environment, even though organic is more expensive (see Why are organic products so expensive?)
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