Organic Agriculture

FAQ about Organic Agriculture Source FAO Organic Agriculture

Can Organic farmers produce enough food for everybody ?

Food security

Food security is not only a question of the ability to produce food, but also of the ability to access food. Global food production is more than enough to feed the global population, the problem is getting it to the people who need it. In market-marginalized areas, organic farmers can increase food production by managing local resources without having to rely on external inputs or food distribution systems over which they have little control and/or access. It is to be noted that although external agricultural inputs can be substituted by organic management of natural resources, land tenure remains a main constraint to the labour investments needed for organic agriculture. Organic farms grow a variety of crops and livestock in order to optimize competition for nutrients and space between species: this results in less chance of low production or yield failure in all of these simultaneously. This can have an important impact on local food security and resilience. In rain-fed systems, organic agriculture has demonstrated to outperform conventional agricultural systems under environmental stress conditions. Under the right circumstances, the market returns from organic agriculture can potentially contribute to local food security by increasing family incomes. At the global level, however, and with the present state of knowledge and technology, organic farmers cannot produce enough food for everybody.

Organic agriculture and yields

The performance of organic agriculture on production depends on the previous agricultural management system. An over-simplification of the impact of conversion to organic agriculture on yields indicates that :
  • In industrial countries, organic systems decrease yields; the range depends on the intensity of external input use before conversion.
  • In the so-called Green Revolution areas (irrigated lands), conversion to organic agriculture usually leads to almost identical yields.
  • In traditional rain-fed agriculture (with low-input external inputs), organic agriculture has the potential to increase yields.
In fact, many multiple cropping systems, such as those developed by small holders and subsistence farmers, show higher yields in terms of total harvest per unit area. These yield advantages have been attributed to more efficient use of nutrients, water and light and a combination of other factors such as the introduction of new regenerative elements into the farm (e.g. legumes) and fewer losses to pests and diseases. It can be concluded that increased yields on organic farms are more likely to be achieved if the departure point is a traditional system, even if it is degraded. Results will vary depending on management skills and ecological knowledge, but this can be expected to improve as human capital assets increase. However, it is important to have a good land tenure system because an individual is not likely to invest in improving the land if his/her future there is not secure.

Organic agriculture and food security

Persisting world hunger has demonstrated that agriculture alone (be it conventional or not) cannot alone solve food insecurity. Still, many questions are asked with regards to the ability of organic agriculture to provide food - and many speculations are made, without any comprehensive data basis. No global evaluation on the contribution of organic agriculture to food security exists, essentially due to the small place it occupies within the agriculture sector as a whole. Projections are also difficult to make due to lack of data, lack of a common model for data collection and analysis, as well as rapid changes in agricultural technology and development policies.
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