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Organic Agriculture and the Environmental Stability of Food Supply

Niggli, Urs; Earley, Jane and Ogorzalek, Kevin (2007) Organic Agriculture and the Environmental Stability of Food Supply. Paper at: International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security, Rome, Italy, May 3-5, 2007. [Unpublished]

[thumbnail of niggli-et-al-2007-environmental-stability.pdf] PDF - English

Document available online at: ftp://ftp.fao.org/paia/organicag/ofs/OFS-2007-3.pdf


Organic production systems can make important contributions to food supply stability and farmer livelihoods by establishing soil fertility, providing diversity and, therefore, resilience to food production systems in light of the many uncertainties of climate change. In particular, they contribute positively to food stability in terms of fertile and well structured soils, improved water retention, protection of biodiversity with beneficial side-effects on phytomedical stability and nutrients, and water use efficiency.
Agricultural production methods specifically adapted to microclimates, production of diverse products, and cropping methods emphasizing soil carbon retention are most likely to withstand climatic challenges and contribute to food stability, particularly in those countries most vulnerable to increased climate change.
Organic agriculture is emphatic about making use of farmer and farmer-community knowledge, particularly about farm organization, crop design, manipulation of natural and seminatural habitats on the farm, use or even selection of locally appropriate seeds and breeds, on-farm preparation of natural plant strengtheners and traditional drugs and curing techniques for livestock, innovative and low budget technology, etc. It is unique in modern agriculture that a food production system is so strongly based on adaptive management.
So far, no practical options other than organic agriculture have been proposed to address climate instability. Currently, it is an option which is based and more scientific evidence and field implementation than inexistent or untested technologies such as genetically improved crops that can withstand drought/flood and that can maintain a high resilience in order to cope with unpredictable impacts of climate change.
This paper recognizes the deficits of organic agriculture that are mainly related to lower productivity and yield losses. However, the deficits should not be exaggerated. The massively lower yields, those in the range of more than 20 to 30 percent compared to conventional agriculture, occur only in cash-crop-focused production systems and under most favourable climate and soil conditions.
Such deficits highlight needs in the current international and national research activities. European countries, leaders in organic agriculture research, spend approximately €60 million per year on specific problems of organic food and farming (Lange, et al., 2006), supplemented with roughly € 4 million per annum by the European Commission. This represents less than 1 percent of total food and agriculture research. In order to improve the performance of organic production, more research is needed on:
- soil fertility management and crop growth and health;
- habitat management with improved manipulation and exploitation of diversity at all levels;
- crop breeding programmes focusing on the adaptability of plants to low input situations in soils, in weed competition, and in pest and disease tolerance;
- improved techniques and compounds for plant protection from natural sources;
- organic livestock production breeding concepts and programmes for adaptability to management and environmental stress situations; and
- reduced tillage organic systems;
Organic agriculture represents a positive example of how farmers can help mitigate climate change and adapt to its predictable and unpredictable impacts. It could be used as an indicator for allocating national or international development resources to climate change adaptation (e.g. Adaptation Fund) or to measure progress in implementing climate-related multilateral environment agreements (such as already done in 2010 targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity).

EPrint Type:Conference paper, poster, etc.
Type of presentation:Paper
Keywords:Climate, organic farming and environment, biodiversity, Nachhaltigkeitsanalyse
Subjects: Environmental aspects
Food systems > Food security, food quality and human health
Research affiliation: Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Sustainability > Climate
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Sustainability > Biodiversity
Related Links:http://www.fao.org/organicag/ofs/docs_en.htm, http://www.fao.org/organicag/, http://www.fibl.org/english/index.php
Deposited By: Niggli, Prof. Dr. Urs
ID Code:10752
Deposited On:01 May 2007
Last Modified:22 Oct 2010 07:09
Document Language:English
Refereed:Not peer-reviewed

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