Organic farming and climate change in Cyprus – Current situation and opportunities through ORGANIKO

The Southern Europe’s agricultural sector has been affected severely by climate change with visible effects such as annual rainfall reduction, increased temperatures and prolonged heatwaves. The results of these climate change effects are:

  • Reduced crop productivity
  • Higher pest and disease pressures
  • Further soil degradation
  • Increased risk for food security and resources sustainability

In Cyprus, a draft national plan for adaptation to climate change has been developed recently (June 2014) by the Cyprus Department of Environment. This national plan describes a suite of mitigation and adaptation measures for each major economic sector (energy, transport, public health, environment-soils-agriculture-water-forests) are proposed for implementation by the Cypriot stakeholders in order to reduce the effect of climate change effect. However, no socioeconomic parameters were taken into account and this was indeed mentioned in the document, offering an opportunity for future research to cover these aspects into their risk assessment exercises and the estimates of total social costs associated with each implemented mitigation measure effects.

The environment and particularly agriculture account for a relatively small % contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (8%, Eurostat, 2012), but the global warming potential of nitrous oxide and methane greenhouse gases is 300 and 30 times greater than that of an equal mass of carbon dioxide, despite their at least an order of magnitude lower atmospheric concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide (IPCC, 1997). The current focus of the EU DG Climate Action A2 Unit and that of the European Commission’s is largely on nitrous oxide and methane gas cycles than that of carbon dioxide. Thus, the extensive use of animal manures in organic farming practices and the preference not to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides will demonstrate the effectiveness of organic farming practices in mitigating nitrous oxide and methane emissions from agricultural systems. Out of 730 Gg CO2 eq. emissions from agriculture in 2011 for Cyprus, about 60% comes from N2O emissions while the source with the most N2O emission is coming from agricultural soils (Umweltbundesamt GmbH, 2012).

In Cyprus, the current market for organic products is limited and the agricultural land used for organic farming is also minimal, being < 3% of cultivated area, and one of the three lowest national rankings in the EU-27 (EC, 2010). Hence, this provides room for improvement and opportunities of the organic sector in Cyprus. In this project we are going to demonstrate through prototyping that improved organic farming practices increase the ability of the agro-ecosystem to ameliorate its environmental competitiveness in a semi-arid region like Cyprus where climate change consequences are expected to be severe in the next decades. We envision that the quality indicators of organic farming used in this project will highlight the environmental benefits associated with adaptation to climate change; such indicators include:

  • Increase in biodiversity and soil fertility
  • Reduction in greenhouse emissions
  • Lack of use of synthetic chemicals, like pesticides and fertilizers
  • Enhanced carbon sequestration

Therefore, the increase of organic farming in Cyprus is expected to considerably reduce greenhouse emissions and thus, will contribute to efforts towards adapting to climate change. The environmental quality indicators used in our demonstration activities and related actions are anticipated to highlight the benefits of organic farming towards contributing to adaptation of climate change. Moreover quality indicators in organic versus conventional products will be applied to several fruits and vegetables. Indeed, the Government in Cyprus through its national adaptation plan to climate change proposes three major mitigation measures that explicitly mention the term organic farming and organic products and these are:

  1. Continuation and improvement of agro-environmental measures including organic farming being the number one proposed measure to combat climate change for agricultural soils.
  2. Reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides as a means to improve biodiversity through the use of organic farming.
  3. Provide incentives to farmers to increase use of organic fertilizers and organic farming and apply farming practices of low input agriculture and organic agriculture.

The above three proposed organic farming-related mitigation measures by the Government of Cyprus will be particularly implemented, evaluated and assessed for their effectiveness in mitigating the drivers and/or effects of climate change.

Crops and crop varieties used in organic farming are usually well adapted to the local environment. Manifestations of climate change and their effects on organic farming yield, reliability and mitigation characteristics are often difficult to accurately assess, because at the local level, climate change models are not very accurate or even available. Mitigation and adaptation efforts may utilize measures that build on self-adaptive capacity, such as local crop-breeding. Organic farming as a mitigation strategy addresses both reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and improved carbon sequestration. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is achieved through:

  1. Lower N2O emissions (due to lower nitrogen input)—it is usually assumed that 1–2% of the nitrogen applied to farming systems is emitted as N2O, irrespective of the form of the nitrogen input. The default value currently used by the IPCC is 1.25%, but recent research findings hint towards lower values, especially for semi-arid areas [Barton et al. 2008].
  2. Reduced CO2 emissions through erosion (due to better soil structure and more plant cover)—there usually is less erosion in organic farming systems than in conventional ones.
  3. Reduced CO2 emissions from OF inputs (pesticides and fertilizers produced using fossil fuel).
  4. Continuation and improvement of soil agro-environmental measures incorporated into OF best practices.
  5. Reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides as a means to improve biodiversity through the use of organic farming.

Soil carbon sequestration is enhanced through agricultural management practices that particularly apply to organic farming (such as increased application of organic manures, use of intercrops and green manures, higher hares of perennial grasslands and trees or hedges, etc.), which promote greater soil organic matter (and thus soil organic carbon) content and improve soil structure. Crude estimates for the global mitigation potential of organic farming amount to 3.5–4.8 Gt CO2 from carbon sequestration (~55–80% of total global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture) and a reduction of N2O by two-thirds (Niggli et al. 2009).


Cyprus Department of Environment, 2014. National strategic plan for the adaptation to climate change. Preliminary draft for public consultation (available only in Greek).$file/AdaptToClimate_v2014.pdf (Accessed October 15, 2014)

Barton, L., R. Kiese, D. Gatter, K. Butterbach-Bahl, R. Buck, C. Hinz, and D. Murphy. 2008. “Nitrous Oxide Emissions from a Cropped Soil in a Semi-arid Climate,” Global Change Biology 14: 177–92.

Niggli, U., Fliedbach, A., Hepperly, P. and Scialabba, N. 2009. Low Greenhouse Gas Agriculture: Mitigation and Adaptation Potential of Sustainable Farming Systems. FAO, April 2009, Rev. 2 – 2009.

Eurostat Website

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), Revised 1996 IPCC Guidelines for national greenhouse gas Inventories, the Organ. For Econ. Coop. Dev., Paris, France, 1997.

EC, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, “An analysis of the EU organic sector” June 2010.

Umweltbundesamt GmbH, Final report of the 2012 technical review of the greenhouse gas emission inventory of Cyprus to support the determination of annual emission allocation under Decision 406/2009/EC, version 3, 17 August 2012