Organic farming is merely a niche model of agriculture that is not capable of helping to feed the global population in any serious way. Although that’s what the detractors like to claim, the evidence suggests otherwise.
In the 2006 book The impact of organic farming on food security in a regional and global perspective, Halberg and colleagues argue that if a conversion to organic farming of approximately 50 per cent of the agricultural area in the Global South were to be carried out, it would result in increased self-sufficiency and decreased net food import to the region.
Following on from this, in the book Organic Agriculture for Sustainable Livelihioods (2013), Halberg and Muller suggest that organic crops tend to provide farmers with a higher net income compared to their conventional counterparts due to lower production costs. They provide convincing evidence that organic farming has a positive influence on smallholder food security and livelihoods, which is important given that smallholder agriculture is key to food production in the Global South, where food insecurity is most prevalent.
Their analysis indicates that organic farming promotes crop diversity, improves worker health due to less chemical exposure, increases farmland biodiversity, lowers pollution, increases soil fertility and is less financially risky due to lower upfront costs.
In 2007, the UN FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) noted that, by managing biodiversity in time (rotations) and space (mixed cropping), organic farmers use their labour and environmental factors to intensify production in a sustainable way and that organic agriculture could break the vicious circle of indebtedness for agricultural inputs.
The FAO stated that organic agriculture could produce enough food on a global per capita basis for the current world population but with reduced environmental impact than conventional agriculture.
Olivier De Schutter, former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, produced this report in 2011 that was based on an extensive review of recent scientific literature. He concludes that, by applying agroecological principles to the design of democratically controlled agricultural systems, we can help to put an end to food crises and address climate-change and poverty challenges.
There is also a meta-analysis conducted by two United Nations agencies (UNEP and UNCTAD) in 2008 that conclude organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa. And then there is the IAASTD peer-reviewed report, which recommends agroecology to maintain and increase the productivity of global agriculture.
However, insufficient backing for organic-based farming seriously hinders progress. And this last point should not be understated. For instance, the success of the Green Revolution is often touted, but despite all the resources invested, how can we really evaluate it? If the powerful, influential interests who promoted the Green Revolution had invested in agroecology and organic models instead, would more people be pointing to the successes of organic-based farming and without the massive external costs of a polluted environment, less diverse diets, degraded soils and nutrient deficient food, ill health and so on?
Even if we accept a role for Green Revolution technology and thinking, had it not been wedded to and driven by powerful commercial and geopolitical interests, could it not have been employed more judiciously to serve farmers and the public better?
There are numerous other reports/studies which testify to the efficacy of organic farming, not least those by the Rodale Institute, Oakland Institute, Women’s Collective of Tamil Nadu, Newcastle University, UN Green Economy Initiative and Washington State University. We also need look no further than the results of organic-based farming in Malawi. Organic approaches have also enhanced farmers’ livelihoods in India and have played a major role in achieving food security in Cuba and play a key role in contributing to rural development.