Can organic farming feed us all?

Posted: 3 May 2006

Two recent studies reveal that a global shift to organic farming would yield more food, not less, for the world's hungry, says Worldwatch Institute Senior Researcher Brian Halweil.

Writing in the latest issue of World Watch magazine Halweil says that organic farming tends to raise yields in poorer nations, precisely those areas where people are hungry and can't afford chemical-intensive farming.

Where there is a yield gap between conventional and organic crops, it tends to be widest in wealthy nations, where farmers use copious amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in a perennial attempt to maximize yields.

"In poorer nations, organic farming techniques like composting and green manuring and biological pest control may be farmers' best hope for boosting production and reducing hunger," writes Halweil.

Beyond this yield advantage, organic farming has proven benefits for wildlife, water and air quality, and food safety. And while analysts onthe two sides of this issue are constantly at odds, some experts are starting to advocate a middle path that uses many of the principles oforganic farming and depends on just a fraction of the chemicals used in conventional agriculture.

Such an integrative system, they believe, would have great benefits for farmers, consumers, and the environment. "The lack of widespread support for organic farming from governments, industry, and farmer organizations is short-sighted and may ultimately be contributing to world hunger," says Halweil.

The article, 'Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?' appears in the May-June issue of World Watch, published by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute