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Debate: Can organic farming feed the world?

Bjorn Lomborg, long known as a ‘contrarian’ environmentalist, recently triggered a heated media debate when he claimed that organic farming cannot provide food security for the world, and even asserted that it is bad for the environment. Here we present Lomborg’s original column in USA Today and a selection of voices that counter his view.

Organic food is great business, but a bad investment: Bjorn Lomborg
Bjørn Lomborg, USA Today
Back in 2012, Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy did the largest comparison of four decades worth of research comparing organic and regular food. They expected to find evidence that organics were nutritionally superior. Their conclusion: “Despite the widespread perception that organically produced foods are more nutritious than conventional alternatives, we did not find robust evidence to support this perception.” A brand new review this year shows the same thing: “Results of scientific studies do not show that organic products are more nutritious and safer than conventional foods.”

Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone?
John Reganold, The Guardian
The study, Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, published in Nature Plants, is the first to compare organic and conventional agriculture across the four main metrics of sustainability identified by the US National Academy of Sciences: be productive, economically profitable, environmentally sound and socially just. Like a chair, for a farm to be sustainable, it needs to be stable, with all four legs being managed so they are in balance. We found that although organic farming systems produce yields that average 10-20% less than conventional agriculture, they are more profitable and environmentally friendly. Historically, conventional agriculture has focused on increasing yields at the expense of the other three sustainability metrics.

Yes, Organic Farming Can Create Food Security On A Global Scale
Colin Todhunter, Huffington Post Canada
Insufficient backing for organic-based farming seriously hinders progress. And this 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?

Can Organic farming feed the world?
There has been enormous debates and discussions over this topic as to if “Organic” farming can produce enough yield to feed the world. Most of the so called Agri Universities, corporations and governments don’t agree and the people who think organic farming can feed the world are termed as delusional hippies, impractical nomads, eccentric idiots, self-righteous organic farmers and many more. While, we strongly believe that we can ofcourse reap better yield/harvest, unfortunately it’s difficult to back it up with facts and figures. The light at the end of the tunnel for me was when the farmer in Bihar grew a record yield of more than 20 tons of paddy per hectare which was previously held by someone in China, and that too organically.

Can Organic Farming Feed Us All? (2006 article)
Brian Halweil, Worldwatch Institute
There are actually myriad studies from around the world showing that organic farms can produce about as much, and in some settings much more, than conventional farms. Where there is a yield gap, it tends to be widest in wealthy nations, where farmers use copious amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in a perennial attempt to maximize yields. It is true that farmers converting to organic production often encounter lower yields in the first few years, as the soil and surrounding biodiversity recover from years of assault with chemicals. And it may take several seasons for farmers to refine the new approach. But the long-standing argument that organic farming would yield just one-third or one-half of conventional farming was based on biased assumptions and lack of data. More importantly, in the world’s poorer nations where most of the world’s hungry live, the yield gaps completely disappear. University of Essex researchers Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine looked at over 200 agricultural projects in the developing world that converted to organic and ecological approaches, and found that for all the projects-involving 9 million farms on nearly 30 million hectares-yields increased an average of 93 percent.

Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial – 30 Year Report
Rodale Institute
The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial is America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of organic versus conventional farming, a number of universities have established long-term trials over the years. Between them all, we know that organic agriculture is more profitable, builds more soil fertility over time, and can yield just as much as conventional systems.

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