Can organic farming feed the world?

Over the last few decades, intensification practices in agriculture have helped to increase yields. Conventional farming methods, which include the use of agrochemicals for plant growth and pest and disease management, have focused on allowing farmers to reach the productive capacity of their land rather than improving it [1].

It has become vital to investigate alternative farming methods which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, soil erosion, chemical leaching, water pollution, and the depletion of other natural resources [2].

Organic farming is considered by some as one way of creating a sustainable food system. At present, only a small percentage of the world’s agriculture and horticulture is certified organic. While organic farming is perceived to be beneficial to the environment, it often requires more land and returns yields that are generally lower than non-organic methods, making the end product more expensive. So what distinguishes conventional farming from organic [3] [4] [5]?

Organic farming

According to the European Commission [6], organic farming is an agricultural method that produces food using natural substances and processes. This means that organic farming tends to have a limited environmental impact as it encourages:

  • the responsible use of energy and natural resources,
  • the maintenance of biodiversity,
  • preservation of regional ecological balances,
  • enhancement of soil fertility, and
  • maintenance of water quality.

Additionally, organic farming rules encourage a high standard of animal welfare and require farmers to meet the specific behavioural needs of animals.

Conventional farming

‘Conventional’ or ‘modern industrial agriculture’ has been historically defined as the practice of growing crops in soil, in the open air, with irrigation, and the active application of nutrients, pesticides, and herbicides [7].

Ask an expert

In this Interview, we asked a farmer who has an organic as well as a conventional farm, where tomatoes and other vegetables are grown, about his experiences of organic versus conventional farming.

PDFs of this interview and the references can be found under the ‘Downloads’ heading at the bottom of this Step.

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This article is from the free online course:

Explore How Farmers Produce Food Sustainably

EIT Food