Organic food has long been considered a niche
market, a luxury for wealthy consumers. But researchers told a
U. N. Conference Saturday that a large-scale shift to organic
agriculture could help fight world hunger, while improving the
Crop yields initially can drop as much as 50
percent when industrialized, conventional agriculture using
chemical fertilizers and pesticides is converted to organic.
While such decreases often even out over time, the figures have
kept the organic movement largely on the sidelines of
discussions about feeding the hungry.
Researchers in Denmark found, however, that food
security for sub-Saharan Africa would not be seriously harmed if
50 percent of agricultural land in the food exporting regions of
Europe and North America were converted to organic by 2020.
While total food production would fall, the
amount per crop would be much smaller than previously assumed,
and the resulting rise in world food prices could be mitigated
by improvements in the land and other benefits, the study found.
A similar conversion to organic farming in
sub-Saharan Africa could help the region’s hungry because it
could reduce their need to import food, Niels Halberg, a senior
scientist at the Danish Research Center for Organic Food and
Farming, told the U.N. conference on "Organic Agriculture and
Farmers who go back to traditional agricultural
methods would not have to spend money on expensive chemicals and
would grow more diverse and sustainable crops, the report said.
In addition, if their food is certified as organic, farmers
could export any surpluses at premium prices.
The researchers plugged in data on projected
crop yields and commodity prices until 2020 to create models for
the most optimistic and conservative outlooks.
Alexander Mueller, assistant director-general of
the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, praised
the report and noted that projections indicate the number of
hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa was expected to grow.
Considering that the effects of climate change
are expected to hurt the world’s poorest, "a shift to organic
agriculture could be beneficial," he said.
Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, an FAO official who
organized the conference, pointed to other studies she said
indicated that organic agriculture could produce enough food per
capita to feed the world’s current population.
One such study, by the University of Michigan,
found that a global shift to organic agriculture would yield at
least 2,641 kilocalories per person per day, just under the
world’s current production of 2,786, and as many as 4,381
kilocalories per person per day, researchers reported. A
kilocalorie is one "large" calorie and is known as the
"These models suggest that organic agriculture
has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as
conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental
impacts," Scialabba said in a paper presented to the conference.
However, she stressed that the studies were only
The United Nations defines organic agriculture
as a "holistic" food system that avoids the use of synthetic
fertilizers and pesticides, minimizes pollution and optimizes
the health of plants, animals and people.
It is commercially practised in 120 countries
and represented a $40 billion market last year, Scialabba said.