Thursday, March 31, 2016

Another way of looking at agriculture

Global Agribusiness, Dependency and the Marginalisation of Self-Sufficiency, Organic Farming and Agroecology

by COLIN TODHUNTER, CounterPunch

Is organic-based farming merely a niche model of agriculture that is not capable of feeding the global population? Or does it have a major role to play?

In addressing these questions, it would be useful to consider a selection of relevant literature to see what it says about the role of organic farming, how this model of agriculture impacts farmers and whether or not it can actually feed the global population.

Organic farming and sustainable livelihoods

In ‘The impact of organic farming on food security in a regional and global perspective’, Halberg et al (2006) argue that while present food production in theory is sufficient to cover the energy and protein needs of the global population, there are still more than 740 million food insecure people, the majority of whom live in the Global South. The researchers indicate that if a conversion to organic farming of approximately 50% of the agricultural area in the Global South were to be carried out, it would result in increased self-sufficiency and decreased net food import to the region.

Following on from this, in the 2013 book ‘Organic Agriculture for Sustainable Livelihioods’ by Halberg and Muller, the authors suggest that organic crops tend to provide farmers with a higher net income compared to their conventional counterparts due to lower production costs. The book provides convincing evidence that organic farming has a positive influence on smallholder food security and livelihoods. This is important because smallholder agriculture is key to food production in the Global South, where food insecurity is most prevalent.

Aaron Iverson makes a pertinent point about this book: Halberg and Muller factor into their analyses the economic benefits of organic agriculture over conventional agriculture, which accrue over several years to decades. Iverson says that such analyses on these time scales are rare. Based on extensive research and modelling, the two authors indicate that organic farming promotes crop diversity, improves worker health due to less chemical exposure, increases social and human capital, increases farmland biodiversity, lowers pollution, increases soil fertility and is less financially risky due to lower upfront costs. Among other things, it also sequesters more soil carbon and is less vulnerable to climate change due to improved soil properties.

(Continued here.)

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