Could the world switch to organic farming?

Author: Peter West
1st August 2016

Developed economies are experiencing a growing demand for organic food. The organic farming process does not use chemical fertilizers or feed additives for livestock. It relies on the use of alternative natural techniques to protect harvests from pests and other diseases. Protecting agricultural land from exhaustion is unarguably essential to ensuring a sustainable future.

On the other hand, our increasingly growing population “has led some to argue that a 70% increase in food production will be needed” to cover our needs. Where economies develop, diets diversify which adds to the complexity and volume of our global food supply chain. As it stands, it is widely accepted that organic farming techniques would not yet prove efficient enough for high scale production.

So what are the benefits of organic farming? Is buying organic food a fully sustainable option on a global scale?

Consumers in developed economies are demanding higher standards and tend to care more about what ends up their plate if they can afford it. Organically produced foods do provide a healthier option. Natural techniques are used to fend off bugs to protect the harvest and encourage biodiversity. The challenges that organic farming is facing are mainly around efficiency. Conventional farming doesn’t require mechanical weed control and the crops yield is on average 20% lower in organic farming.

This partly explains why consumers pay a premium for organically grown products. Bear in mind that some organic products, such as tomatoes, have had reported yields equal to conventional farming. Organic farming also has a reputation for being better for the environment. Whilst it protects soils from depletion, it has also been reported that “some organic farming methods require more water” than conventional methods. Reported inefficiencies of organic farming shouldn’t be used to oppose it and efficiencies of conventional high scale farming shouldn’t be ignored either.

Solutions can be found and incentives created to encourage the incorporation of both farming methods best practices to drive change and progress towards an environmentally friendly agriculture. For example, there has been strong arguments challenging the ability of organic farming methods for feeding the entire planet and, at the same time, 47% of soy and 60% of corn is produced for animal feed in the US.

Working towards a more sustainable future is as much about how we utilize our resources as it is about the technology employed. Providing food for everyone whilst protecting the environment and our social structures is the objective of sustainability. Integrating the principles of organic farming on a global scale and sustainably will be the result of more advanced technology, adapting our diets and reducing inefficiencies and complexities in the supply chain.

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