Producer benefitsOrganic methods bring certain benefits for farmers, some costs and many unknowns.
What’s good: Organic agriculture is typically more profitable – up to 35% more, according to a meta-analysis of studies across North America, Europe and India – than conventional farming. Organic also provides more rural employment opportunities because organic management is more labour-intensive than conventional practices. For workers, though, the biggest advantage is that organic decreases their exposure to toxic agrochemicals.
What’s not-so-good: We still don’t know whether organic farms pay higher wages or offer better working conditions than conventional farms. Organic farm workers are most likely exploited in similar ways as those tilling the fields on conventional farms.
The takeawayIn short, we cannot determine yet whether organic agriculture could feed the world and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture while providing decent jobs and giving consumers affordable, nutritious food.
It’s a lot to ask of one industry, and there are still just too many unanswered questions. Some of these questions relate to agriculture, such as whether organic farms can eventually close the yield gap with conventional farms and whether there are enough organic fertilisers to produce all the world’s food organically.
But some questions are also about humanity’s collective future. Can people in the rich world learn to change our diet and reduce food waste to avoid having to increase food production as the global population grows? And are enough people willing to work in agriculture to meet the needs of labour-intensive organic farms?
A more useful question is whether we should continue to eat organic food and expand investment in organic farming. Here the answer is a definitive yes.
Organic agriculture shows significant promises in many areas. We would be foolish not to consider it an important tool in developing more sustainable global agriculture.
Only 1% of agricultural land is organically farmed worldwide. If organic land continues to expand at the same rate that it has over the past decade, it will take another century for all agriculture to be organic.
But organic farming’s influence goes far beyond that 1% acreage. Over the past 50 years, organic farms have provided conventional agriculture with examples of new ways to farm and acted as a testing ground for a different set of management practices, from diversifying crop rotations and composting to using cover crops and conservation tillage. Conventional agriculture has neglected these sustainable practices for too long.
So yes, you should identify and support those organic farms that are doing a great job of producing environmentally friendly, economically viable, and socially just food. Conscientious consumers can also push to improve organic farming where it is not doing so well – for example on yields and worker rights.
As scientists, we must close some of the critical knowledge gaps about this farming system to better understand its achievements and help address its challenges.
But in the meantime, everyone can learn from successful organic farms and help improve the other 99% of agriculture that’s feeding the world today.
Verena Seufert, Postdoctoral fellow, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia and Navin Ramankutty, Professor, University of British Columbia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.