Organic Farming Crucial to Food Security, Addressing Climate Change

As the world begins to wrestle with rising food insecurity associated with climate change, a report from Worldwatch points to the crucial role organic farming plays.

Not only is organically produced food more nutritious, but it sustains livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries, because unlike conventional agriculture, it relies on labor. And it increases crop yields.

Organic farming also enhances biodiversity, reducing the vulnerability of the region to climate change. 

Over the past decade, the amount of certified organic acreage has tripled across the world, but it still accounts for for less than 1% (0.9%) of the world’s agricultural acreage, says Worldwatch Institute.

As of 2010, over 91 million acres are certified organic and 84 countries have organic certification standards, up from 74 in 2009.

Organic acreage is highest in the Oceania region, including Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations, with 29.6 million acres, followed by Europe (27.4 million acres), and Latin America (20.7 million acres).

North America has just 6.4 million acres. 

Acreage doesn’t tell the whole story, however. 80% of the 1.6 million global certified organic farmers live in the developing world, not surprising since organic farming is more labor intensive. India has the greatest number of certified organic producers with 400,551 farmers, followed by Uganda (188,625) and Mexico (128,826).

Millions more farmers in developing countries practice organic agriculture, even though they aren’t certified.

“Although organic agriculture often produces lower yields on land that has recently been farmed conventionally, it outperforms conventional practices—especially in times of drought—when the land has been farmed organically for a longer time,” says Laura Reynolds, a researcher with Worldwatch’s Food and Agriculture Program. “Conventional agricultural practices often degrade the environment over both the long and short term through soil erosion, excessive water extraction, and biodiversity loss.”

"Conventional produce (and grains like wheat) contain significantly fewer vitamins and minerals than they did 50 years ago. In our quest to grow more-more-more by using pesticides, GMOs, and not allowing fields to lie fallow, the soil has been robbed of its vital nutrients. This may grow lots of good-looking peppers, tomatoes and corn, but tests show they are less nutritional," says Natural Vitality Living.

In fact, one farmer wants to change the criteria so that farms are measured in terms of how much they grow, but in the  nutrient content of its crops.  Farmers growing high-nutrient crops would get higher prices and consumers would reap the healthful benefits.

Half the fossil fuels are used on organic farms than conventional farms, and common organic practices – such as crop rotation and cover crops, mulching and maintaining wildflowers, and native shrubs and trees – improve water retention and stabilize soils, reducing vulnerability to harsh weather patterns. Such practices also improve the quality of the soil, which then serves as a top source of carbon sequestation. 

Organic farms have 30% greater biodiversity, including birds, insects, and plants, than conventional farms do.

Countries Taking Notice

Organic farming projects in 57 nations have demonstrated average gains in crop yields of 80%, according to a United Nations report. 

That report concludes food production in entire regions can be doubled within 10 years while mitigating climate change and alleviating rural poverty … by using these practices.

A 2-year, $250 million program in Brazil has restored the land on over 2,000 farms,  recovering degraded pastures and implementing no-till agriculture to improve the soil as well as other practices, according to a NY Times editorial

Similarly, 1000 projects in Niger have benefited more than 100,000 people by implement sustainable agriculture, fishing and livestock management on 9000 hectares. They have reduced soil erosion and water consumption, while increasing plant cover and the amount of carbon stored.

In Vietnam, more than a million farmers have increase yields and cut methane emissions by intermittently draining rice paddies. The approach, started in 2007, is now used on 185,000 hectares.

"If food prices are not kept under control and populations are unable to feed themselves … we will increasingly have states being disrupted and failed states developing," say Olivier de Schutter, the UN reporter on the right to food.

Bhutan, a tiny country of 700,000 people between China and India, has pledged to go 100% organic. Only 3% of the nation’s land is dedicated to agriculture, although two-thirds of its citizens depend on farming for their livelihood.

Read about Rodale’s 30-year study on the benefits of organic food.

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Comments on “Organic Farming Crucial to Food Security, Addressing Climate Change”

  1. OrganicTruth

    Its important to respond here and pass along a reality check about the organic sector.
    It appears, like many in the media you are going along with the popularly accepted view (propagated by the likes of IFOAM and FiBL) that organics is on a roll – or in fact, is undergoing a meteoric rise. Meanwhile this turns out to be a misconception as the reality shows organics is in fact stalled. Of concern is how organics’ leadership’s self-driven boosterism talks up global organic sales presently at $59 billion (Source: FiBL & IFOAM 2012). Glossed over is that organics’ sales in some markets are slowing, and in some cases actually reversing, like the UK. The just-published Co-operative Bank Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2012 ( confirms that, out of 10 ethical food and drink categories, organic was the only one that declined by almost 11% in value during the most recent year. By contrast, Fairtrade grew by 24% and sustainable fish by 32%; even free-range eggs grew by 6%. Increasingly the view is that something is wrong within organics and the switch in thinking from “Can organics grow” to “Will organics survive”? indicates this is a time to pause for serious reflection. Analysis concludes that a massive shake-up is needed within organics organizational architecture and action needs to be galvanized fast because if change doesn’t come the dire fear is that organics will fail.
    Secondly, reframing organics’ performance through the Conventional (GM and more intensive agri-chemical fertilizer use) versus all-natural Organic lens we see organics’ leadership inferring huge growth in organic farmland currently recording this at 37 million hectares. Here the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and Swiss-based organic research institute FiBL, obfuscates recent growth trends by failing to note that without the inflationary inclusion of vast organic Australian (accounts for 32% of the world’s total) and Brazilian ranchland, meaningful growth is absent. Contrast this to GM farmland at 330 million hectares and a 10% share of global agriculture. Over ten times (10x ) organics’ share in just 8-10 years. Again $575 billion GM farmgate sales are about 10x the $59 billion being reported for organics. [again here the publishers FIBL and IFOAM neglect to declare that this is retail value sales not farm gate sales]. The scoresheet shows GM achieving over 10x organics’ share in just 8-10 years while this year organic’s leaders IFOAM and FiBL have the temerity to proudly celebrate their 40 year anniversaries “promoting” Global organic agriculture. Reality is more in line with the 2008 USDA study, recording 1.6 million organic acres and 0.52 % of the US’s total crop acreage. As for FiBL’s slowing, or halting, GM-oriented farming in its figures what FiBL is not telling is the ratio here is stacked 10:1 in GM’s. Obfuscation like this, from an industry that claims higher ethics, can be misconstrued and plays into organics’ detractors’ hands. This regrettably has the potential to be interpreted as mendacious misinformation and organic custodians need to understand just a single lie can destroy organic’s integrity. Regardless of any obscurantist sleight-of-hand most alarming is realizing GM’s uncontested forward traction while organics is going nowhere ……
    Alternatively, looking through another lens, how does organics’ $59bn market position stack with Frost & Sullivan’s 2011 recorded $13 trillion value for global conventional food and beverage market? First consider the 1:1,000 billion to trillion ratio explained say by the 5 minute/one mile trip to the local grocer and the 12 hours needed for a 1,000 mile road trip. Doing the math gives organics’ a 0,42% share of the global food system. [ see attached working charts ]
    Being clear-sighted here, organics then is simply more a story of insitutional failure than success. This is about a job not done. The problem is organics is unled and searching questions are being asked of those charged with growing the organic category. FiBL (billing itself and the leading global organic research institute) and IFOAM are garnering most of the funding aimed at advancing organic but after 40 years what’s the result? What’s their return-on-investment? FiBL perpetually lays claim to be leading the industry and birthing IFOAM and in FiBL’s self-written view (extracted from a recent SIPPO publication) is that it has “played a trailblazing role” and writes that “for more than 35 years FiBL has taken the lead in fostering the development of organic “pioneering“ organics into “a globally acknowledged method of sustainable farming.” IFOAM’s Executive Director , in a BioFach article, states that we cannot help but “marvel” at the amazing growth of organics. [ “marvel” dictionary definitions includes: “to be amazed”, “be astonished”, “be surprised”, “be awed”, “stand in awe”, “wonder”; “stare or gape mouth open”, “not believe one’s eyes/ears”, “be dumbfounded”, “be flabbergasted” and and a “trailblazing” example is Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s iPhone creating the smart phone market from zero to over 110m smartphones in the US, and 131.5m in the EU, and over 500m globally in under six years ]. Attaining a scant 0,42% market share after 40 years, and failing to stop the advance of GMOs, is not “trailblazing” or anything to “marvel” at.
    IFOAM and FiBL’s failure to generate a timely and credible response to Stanford University’s recent disparaging analysis has also left organics’ perceived image and value in tatters. Consumers are increasingly asking for the scientific evidence to justify why they are shelling out more money for an organic label. Popular press coverage is moving away from the free ride the organic industry has enjoyed for years, and asking the same tough questions ( a Google search coupling “organic” and “scam” throws up a shocking amount of negative and skeptical coverage). So at this time when the industry is comatose, ossified and with the increasing fear its backsliding signals the start of a death spiral – inaction, fantasizing, inattentional blindness, bystander apathy, self-deception and misguided communal reinforcement can no longer be tolerated. With organics in the hands of the narrow-minded and destined to whither there can be no room for intellectual humility. Finger pointing is required and within the organic sector its time to hold each others’ feet to the fire. As Clarence Darrow said “ delusions are always more alluring than facts” and believing the likes of FiBL and IFOAM can produce a new future for organics is like entering a donkey into the Paris Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, or Kentucky Derby, and hoping it’ll win.
    Organics market position, in relation to what its opportunity has been, is regrettable and with organic agriculture offering so much potential to deliver positive Planetary and societal impacts its critical this doesn’t become another massively squandered opportunity. Also to move forward its critical to emphasize a culture of enquiry and confront failure. Configuring new strategies to keep organic alive starts with reality not delusion. Organic’s leadership is bankrupt and failure is systemic. What ought to be happening, and what is not happening is a now a real concern. Staying with the existing structures would be damaging because they are being run by the wrong people, incapable of doing the right things in the right way. Sticking with them will stunt every aspect of organics’ future and organics will remain forever be fringe. Systemic change requires leaders and organisations with the vision, courage and capability to pave the way. We can only hope that the organic industry can activate the moral courage and fierce determination required to mobilize change. What’s needed is a farsighted, motivated group within organics that can change the way organics works for the better. Its time to get the right people into the right jobs to drive towards the right outcomes. The future organic narrative can only tolerate “A” players capable of a high-speed growth and being powerful forces for change. We can only hope that actualizing organic leadership change can be organics’ Renaissance. Making the right choices at this critical time will change the fate of agriculture and generations to come and as one of the Italian Renaissance’s greatest writers Dante Alighieri wrote “This shall be the new light, the new sun, which rises when the worn-out one shall set, and shall give light to them who are in shadow and darkness because of the old sun, which did not enlighten them”.

  2. Rona Fried

    Thank you for your very long comment, Organic Truth. As a very long-time supporter of organic agriculture, I share your concerns about its future with the rise of GMO foods – there’s no comparison with the acreage of organics and GMOs. That’s why we constantly write articles on the problems of GMOs and the advantages of organic. We tried to make it clear in this article that although organic keeps growing, it’s still a tiny portion of the world’s agricultural acreage. What concerns me most about organics is how it becomes “less pure” all time. I hate to see “natural” products in health food supermarkets, which are no different than conventional food. I have fewer and fewer choices in pure organic food as organic manufacturers try to grow by diluting their products, I guess to make them less expensive.


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