Alfoeldi, Thomas; Fliessbach, Andreas; Geier, Uwe; Kilcher, Lukas; Niggli, Urs; Pfiffner, Lukas; Stolze, Matthias and Willer, Helga (2002) Organic Agriculture and the Environment. In: El-Hage Scialabba, Nadia and Caroline, Hattam (Eds.) Organic agriculture, environment and food security. Environment and Natural Resources Series, no. 4. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation (FAO), Rome, chapter 2.
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Conclusion of chapter 2: "Organic Farming and the Environment"
The findings of this study show that organic farming provides a wide range of environmental services. The main results may be summarised as follows:
1. Organic matter content is usually higher in organically managed soils indicating a higher fertility and stability of organic soils, thus reducing the risk of erosion.
2. Organically farmed soils have significantly higher biological activity and a higher total mass of micro-organisms. As a consequence of the higher activity of micro-organisms, in organically managed soils nutrients are recycled faster and soil structure is improved.
3. Organic farming poses no risk of ground and surface water pollution through synthetic pesticides. Nitrate leaching rates per hectare are significantly lower in organic farming compared to conventional farming systems.
4. With respect to energy consumption organic farming is performing better than conventional farming on a per hectare scale.
5. The diversity of cultivated species and of agricultural genetic resources is higher in organic farming.
6. Floral and faunal biodiversity on organic land is higher than on conventional land. Furthermore a higher number of endangered and rare species are present.
7. Organic farming offers vast food resources for beneficial arthropods and birds, thus contributing to natural pest control.
8. With respect to pollinators we concluded that organic farming contributes to their conservation and survival, as organic farming does not use synthetic chemical pesticides or herbicides and enhances ecosystem diversity.
9. Organic farming systems have positive effects on ecosystem diversity and can thus contribute to positive landscape development. Combining semi-natural habitats with organic farming results in synergistic effects on agricultural land and thus contributes to species richness.
10. Organic farming enables ecosystems to better adjust to the effects of climate change and offers a major potential to reduce the emissions of agricultural greenhouse gases.
11. Organic agricultural strategies comprises recycling of organic matter and tightening internal nutrient cycles, thus contributing to carbon sequestration.
12. Organic farming techniques bear potentials to improve soil fertility, soil structure and moisture retention capacity and thus provide solutions to the problems associated with desertification.
As a final assessment we conclude that organic farming leads to more favourable conditions at all environmental levels. Organic farming counteracts resource depletion (water, energy, nutrients), contributes positively to the problems associated with climate change and desertification and can help to maintain and enhance biodiversity at a global scale.
Scientific evidence of the environmental benefits of organic farming for the Southern hemisphere is rare, but from many practical experiences may be assumed that the points listed above also apply to the tropics and subtropics. More research on the environmental services and benefits of organic farming in this part of the world is urgently needed.
Abstract of Full Publication "Organic agriculture, environment and food security"
Organic agriculture is defined as an environmentally and socially sensitive food supply system. This publication examines its many facets, looking at the contribution of organic agriculture to ecological health, international markets and local food security. It builds on empirical experiences throughout the world and analyses the prospects for a wider adoption of organic agriculture. Numerous scenarios depicted in this publication represent the millions of people from all social and economic backgrounds who have adopted this new agrarian ethic on the integrity of food. An introduction to the general concepts of organic agriculture includes an overview of its agronomic, economic, social and institutional performance. Further, the publication presents scientific evidence of the impact of organic agriculture on environmental goods and services and offers an evaluation of its possible contribution to the implementation of international environmental agreements. It also reviews the current status, trends and prospective development of certified organic agriculture production and trade. The important contribution of resource-poor peasants and indigenous farmers to non-certified organic agriculture is highlighted and reviewed. Specific examples of how organic agriculture improves agricultural productivity and rural livelihoods are presented, along with lessons for scaling up positive experiences. The emerging sector of organic aquaculture is described, and its potential is discussed. Finally, case studies from Brazil, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Thailand and Uganda show how traditional knowledge, social mobilization and agro-ecological approaches have been used to restore degraded natural resources while producing food. The small farmers who seek fully integrated food systems are given recognition throughout the publication. They, along with the consumers who are creating market-based incentives for ecological management of agricultural systems, are at the centre of the “organic movement”. The publication discusses the weakness of institutional support for nurturing existing knowledge and exchange in organic agriculture, support that could further enhance organic agriculture’s positive impact on the natural and human environments.
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