New study: organic agriculture as a role model with downsides

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Two scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada have presented a new meta- analysis of organic agriculture. In the picture they paint there's no black and white but many shades of grey and lots of data gaps. However, overall, the conclusion they come to is positive.

For the study “Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture”  Verena Seufert and Navin Ramakutty evaluated over 100 studies that themselves summarised information about organic agriculture. In so doing, they looked at impacts on the environment, human health, working conditions and yields. They found sound scientific evidence that on organic farms biodiversity and the quality of water and soil are higher. Also, organic farms emit less greenhouse gas.

However, the data is less satisfactory when these positives are seen not in relation to cultivated land but to output – in other words the harvest. According to these authors, the harvest is on average 19 to 25 percent lower than in conventional farming. But they point out that the differences depend heavily on the crops being grown and, since most studies compare organic farming with conventional industrialised farming, the data cannot be simply applied to low-input systems in developing countries. You must, therefore, bear in mind the context.

For the scientists, a positive aspect of working conditions is the fact that organic farming is more labour-intensive and that the workers and farmers operate in a safer environment because they don't use pesticides. “But we don't know whether organic farms pay higher wages or offer better conditions than conventional farms,” they say, pointing to one of the many gaps in research.

Despite the uncertainties indicated above and the lack of scientific proof, the two scientists answer one question with an unequivocal yes: “Is it worth carrying on eating organic food and investing in organic agriculture?” They maintain that organic agriculture is not the  Holy Grail but in many areas of activity it is producing promising results and is an important tool in the effort to develop sustainable agriculture worldwide. And, although only one percent of agricultural land worldwide is managed organically, the influence of organic farming is on a much greater scale, because in the last 50 years it has enriched conventional agriculture with many practices like crop rotation, ground cover and composting: “Sustainable methods that were neglected by conventional agriculture for far too long.”

(photo: istockphoto)




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