Sustainable Agriculture

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Can Organic Feed the World?

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The argument is raging on about the ability for Organic Agriculture to feed the world. To many the argument itself is a kind of political bickering that has stalled the movement toward a more sustainable agriculture, to others it is a critical scientific question. I have recently given a presentation about this argument from an agriculturalists perspective for a class with Prof. Dr. Andreas Bürkert.

The argument that ‘Organic Agriculture Cannot Feed the World’ was brought to the agriculturalists table with significant data in a paper of that title by D.J. Connor from the University of Melbourne (2007). In this paper D.J. Connor argues that less than 100% of cropland could receive adequate nitrogen through an additional legume cover crop. This means a total of only 1.7 tons of grain harvest per hectare. This multiplied by the current 1362 million hectares of agricultural land, and 500kg grain per person per year, is enough to feed only 4.2 billion people. D.J. Connor’s arguments are aimed mainly at the mathematics in a study by Dr. Catherine Badgley.

Dr. Catherine Badgley counters all refutations in ‘Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply’ University of Michigan (2007).  She offers strong counter arguments in this paper, stating that now 77 published studies agree that nitrogen-fixing legumes can replace the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer currently in use. Therefore Organic grain harvest can be greater than 2500 total calories per person per day (w/ developing country yield ratios 4358 total kcal person/day w/ developed and developing countries yield ratios).

I argue further with the following slide:

The above slide shows that the USDA and FAO data suggest that much more than enough grain is being harvested today to feed everyone, and yet 1 billion are hungry. Here It is important to note that ‘The Problem of Hunger’ according to Amartya Sen (Harvard University/ Nobel Prize 1998) is not the lack of food but the lack of access to food. Amartya Sen famously said: “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat […] not of there being not enough food to eat.”

Following the arguments of Badgley, Sen and IFOAM’s arguments for global adoption of organic food productions systems I have concluded that organic agriculture is viable and appropriate that it is our agricultural future.

Finally, I ask the question about the what is the purpose of farming? This can best be answered by the farmers themselves and so I quote here two opposite ends of the farmers perspective.

“The ultimate goal of farming is  not the growing of crops,but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
Masanobu Fukuoka, Natural Farmer

•“We are not driven by ideological concepts, political correctness or environmental persuasions;we are driven by the marketplace.”
-J. Hendrix, President of Prog. Ag.


Author: C. Whitney

I am an Independent consultant working with Organic farmers, wild collectors and conservation oriented communities in SE Asia. - Organic Consultant and Researcher, PhD candidate, Couchsurfing Ambassador, MOFGA Member, IFOAM Member, Organic Group Manager...

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