Organic agriculture can feed the world sustainably

A large review study recently published in Nature Plants journal by Washington State University researchers examined the performance of organic farming according to productivity, environmental impact, economic viability and social well-being as well as some of the barriers for the adoption of organic farming systems and the policies needed to overcome them.

Data from meta-analysis-based studies indicate that organic farming systems produce lower yields compared with conventional agriculture, however, this must also be considered with caution, because no single farming system or practice works best everywhere. Improvements in the management of organic systems may close this yield gap between both agricultural systems. In addition, under severe drought conditions (expected to increase with climate change), organically managed farms have been shown to produce higher yields than their conventional counterparts.

Organic farming systems are considered more profitable and environmentally friendly (greater soil carbon levels, better soil quality, less soil erosion, more biodiversity and more energy efficient) than conventional farming systems. Organic farms were found to have lower nitrate leaching, nitrous oxide emissions and ammonia emissions per unit of field area, but higher leaching and emissions per unit product. Organic agriculture deliver equally or more nutritious foods that contain less (or no) pesticide residues, so there is little to no risk of synthetic pesticide pollution of ground and surface waters as well as lower health risks related to pesticides exposure, compared with conventional farming.

Furthermore, the authors highlight that organic agricultural systems may deliver greater ecosystem services and social benefits and it is more likely to achieve agricultural sustainability; however, significant barriers to implementing organic agriculture exist, such as powerful vested interests and existing policies, lack of information and knowledge, weak infrastructure and other economic challenges, misconception and cultural biases. According to them, the challenge policymakers are facing is to create an environment in which organic and other innovative farming systems can become truly sustainable production systems. In order to achieve this, the synergy of policy makers, scientific community, farmers and public is necessary.

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