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Extracts from term paper draft: “Biological conservation, agriculture, and rural liabilities in tropical communities” NAFT320; Ecology and Management of Natural Resources in the Tropics (2007) Author: Nils Harley Boisen Author email: nilsboisen@hotmail.com

Extract: The Anti-Organic Information Campaign Is it an illusion that organic agriculture can feed the world? We currently live at a time where communication is simple, thus we are constantly bombarded with information. Sometimes this information has a conflicting, contrasting, paradoxical character, and of our own human nature we often adapt our attitudes to that information that we are most accustomed to hearing, or that which is most attractive to our predisposed manner, or that which is simply the loudest. There is a common contention amok in society against sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture as such that a world dominated by organic cultivation would require a large scale and environmentally devastating encroachment into undisturbed land to compensate for lower yields produced in organic agriculture. Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug, an esteemed plant breeder and proponent of the “green revolution” once said in a 2002 agricultural policy conference “We can use all the organic that is available, but we aren't going to feed six billion people with organic fertilizer” (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2002). In reviewing a book titled “Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food” that charts the discovery of nitrogen fixation and it’s impact on the world food supply, respected Cambridge chemist John Emsley’s (2001) conclusion on the book’s underlying message was “The greatest catastrophe that the human race could face this century is not global warming but a global conversion to “organic” farming - an estimated 2 billion people would perish” (Emsley 2001). Even some people worried about the increasing world population worry that organic agriculture will in fact satisfy hungry populations. These information campaigns are well established, attractive, and loud. Laymen logic stands little chance. However, a handful of very thorough and objective contemporary research on the topic arguably puts the “anti-organic” information campaign in the same category as information campaigns seeking to convince that climate change is non-existent or at least non-anthropogenic. The following meta-studies in particular, when given the benefit of the doubt if one is already sceptical, put gullible trust in proponents like Norman Borlaug and John Emsley in an incredulous situation. It is important to mention that it has been widely demonstrated that the “colossal” lower yields of organic agriculture, i.e 20 – 30 percent of conventional agriculture, is a phenomenon that is only observed on extremely industrially intensive cash crop cultivation systems under prime climatic and soil conditions (Badgley, et al. 2006; Halberg, et al. 2006; Niggli, et al. 2007; Pretty, et al. 2001). The developing world however is a different story. A study published in the final report from the “SAFE-World” project, conducted by the University of Essex examined organic and ecological agricultural conversion


projects consisting of 8.98 million farmers on 28.92 million ha, equalling three percent of the 960 million hectares of arable and permanent crops in Africa, Asia and Latin America in the developing world. Yields increased on average by 93 percent (Pretty, et al. 2001). A study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan estimated how much food would be available following a global shift to organic agriculture based on 293 relevant examples of yield comparisons between Organic and conventional agriculture from around the world. The first model applied the developed world’s yield ratio to the rest of the planet’s, making developed-world yield decline universal regardless of location and found the daily global per-capita kilocalorie availability to be just three percent less than the current availability of 2786, but still ca. 12 percent higher than the average caloric requirement of a healthy person (2200-2500 kcal) (Badgley, et al. 2006). The second model separated the yield ratios of developing and developed nations, and reviled a daily global per-capita kilocalorie availability 57 percent higher than current availability showing that there would be no need to clear additional land to compensate for “lower” organic yields (Badgley, et al. 2006). Neils Halberg (2006) from the Danish institute of agricultural sciences headed a study addressing the impact of organic farming on food security that plugged the documented ratios of organic/conventional yields for a wide assortment of crops into an algorithm called IMPACT created by the World bank’s international food policy research institute, which is considered to be the most decisive model for estimating farm production, income and the amount of hungry people on a regional and global basis. The study found that although total yield declined in North America and Europe, global food prices were little affected (Halberg, et al. 2006). Moreover, the algorithm showed developing nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia displaying a potential export of food surpluses. One keen bit of information here is that close to one billion starving people remained hungry as a result of surpluses being bought by hands that could afford it (Halberg, et al. 2006). If humanity and the environment don’t benefit from the antiorganic information campaign, who then? The answer is obvious; any stakeholder in cheap agricultural labour, liberal agricultural markets, pesticides, chemical fertilizer, high yielding industrial livestock breeds and crop varieties, genetically modified organisms, etc.

Extract: Term paper’s conclusion Conserving biodiversity may be ineffective without simultaneously conserving culture. Traditional cultures throughout the tropics can be a great asset for conservation through sustainable agriculture, and such human and social assets mustn’t be overlooked as the underpinning creators of farming environments and stewards of contiguous natural environments. Smallholder and indigenous farmers need to be recognized, and their rights to land, infrastructure, sound technology, markets, and fundamental social services requires melioration if tropical agriculture is also going to walk the path of biodiversity stewardship. Whether agricultural land surrounds protected areas or smaller fragments of natural environment, or simply dominates the view of the landscape, it requires cultivation that conserves the ecological integrity of the landscape, by hindering edge effects and facilitating


heterogeneity and the migration of species. Research lessons learned under specific circumstances must be readily available for others where such lessons are relevant and applicable. All this can be equitably accomplished with organic agriculture while simultaneously arresting expansion and being an efficient, fair and cost effective manor of feeding the world. BADGLEY, C., MOGHTADER, J., QUINTERO, E., ZAKEM, E., CHAPPELL, J., AVILE´S-VA´ZQUEZ, K., SAMULON, A. & PERFECTO, I. 2006. Organic Agriculture and the Global Food Supply. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 22(2):86-108. EMSLEY, J. 2001. Going one better than nature? Nature 410(6829):633-634. HALBERG, N., SULSER, T., HØGH-JENSEN, H., ROSEGRANT, M. & KNUDSEN, M. 2006. The impact of organic farming on food security in a regional and global perspective. Pp. 277-322. Global Development of Organic Agriculture: Challenges and Prospects. NIGGLI, U., EARLEY, J. & OGORZALEK, K. 2007. Organic Agriculture and the Environmental Stability of Food Supply. Pp. 21 in FiBL & WWF (eds.). Organic eprints. Paper presented at International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security, Rome, Italy. PEW_CHARITABLE_TRUSTS_(PEW)_INITIATIVE_ON_FOOD_AND_BIOTECHNOLOGY. 2002. Nobel Prize Winner Speaks Out on Advantages of Biotechnology; Criticizes Organics. Monsanto Company. PRETTY, J. & HINE, R. 2001. Reducing Food Poverty with Sustainable Agriculture: A Summary of New Evidence. Pp. 133. Final Report from the “SAFE-World” (The Potential of Sustainable Agriculture to Feed the World) Research Project. Centre for Environment and Society, University of Essex.

The Anti-Organic Information Campaign  

Is it an illusion that organic agriculture can feed the world? We currently live at a time where communication is simple, thus we are consta...

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