What is organic farming? You all might have definitely come across this word in a number of places, specially in grocery stores where one product is tagged organic, and the other isn’t.
Organic farming is a form of agriculture that depends on various techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost and biological pest control. It is more or less similar to other forms of farming, but unlike others, it is basically a type of farming which uses fertilizers and pesticides but excludes or strictly limits the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides (which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides), plant growth regulators such as hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives, genetically modified seeds and breeds, human sewage sludge, and nanomaterials.
There are many explanations and definitions for organic agriculture but all converge to state that it is a system that relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs. It is a system that begins to consider potential environmental and social impacts by eliminating the use of factors as mentioned previously.
The definition of organic farming, according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements is as follows:
Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.
- Organic farming is more economical than the other farming techniques. Its range of benefits includes reduced soil erosion (retaining fertility and reducing the need for fertilizers) and less use of water. This of course, results in the farmers spending less on the products needed for the growth and therefore makes organic farming more profitable.
- Organic farming results in less nutrient contamination, since it stays away from artificial pesticides.
- Organic farming is capable of producing the same crop variants that are produced by the conventional farming methods, even though the use on fertilisers and other products, as mentioned in the first point, is reduced.
- The issue of soil management is effectively addressed by organic farming. It involves techniques like crop rotation and inter-cropping and makes extensive use of green manure, which helps even damaged soil that is prone to erosion and salinity, to feed on micro nutrients.
- Farming in the organic way is environment-friendly and non-toxic, as it uses green pesticides. These pesticides boost the crop defense systems, by identifying and removing diseased and dying plants in time.
One of the main advantages of producing organic food is that farmers are able to cut the amount of greenhouse gases which are released by farms into the atmosphere. And because of the fact that synthetic fertilisers require fossil fuels to be burnt when producing them, less use of synthetic fertiliser means less use of fossil fuels.
Organic food is particularly popular with the general public because it is associated with a very positive healthy image. Many people believe the food is healthier for you because it has not been contaminated with pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. The public ofcourse have a very bad perception of pesticides and other chemicals being used on the food they will be eating, therefore producing organic food can ease the fears of the consumer and increase consumption.
A critical review of the relationships between organic agriculture and the environment as well as other aspects is provided by IFOAM and is presented under the shape of a list of Criticisms And Frequent Misconceptions About Organic Agriculture With Corresponding Counter-Arguments.
- The UN Environmental program conducted a study and survey on organic farming in 2008, which concluded that farming by organic methods gives small yields when compared to conventional farming methods. (However, according to UNCTAD, this was the case in more industrialized farming systems. After switching from synthetic inputs to organic systems, farmers usually experience a reduction in the output. However, After the agro-ecosystem is restored and organic management system are fully implemented, yields increase significantly. In developing countries, evidence from research shows that agricultural yields in organic systems do not fall, and at least remain stable when converting from systems that use relatively low amounts of synthetic inputs.
- Organic agriculture is hardly contributing to addressing the issue of global climate change. It does reduce CO2 emissions to a certain extent, but there is no dramatic contribution.
- In 1998, Denis Avery of the Hudson Institute publicized the increased risk of E. coli infection by the consumption of organic food. (This, however, has been said to be false, as the main source of human infection has been identified by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) through meat contaminated at slaughter. Evidence suggests that such strains develop in the digestive tract of cattle mainly fed with starchy grains. Cattle fed with hay produce less than 1% the E.coli found in the faeces of those fed with grain. As organic cattle are fed with diets containing a higher proportion of hay, grass and silage, reducing the dependency on fodder sources off-farm, organic agriculture invariably reduces the potential risk of exposure).
- Organic farming is generally good for wildlife but does not necessarily have lower overall environmental impacts than conventional farming, a new analysis led by Oxford University scientists has shown.
One of the major disadvantages associated with organic farming is the high costs involved in the process. Because there is no use of pesticides the crops grown are far more vulnerable to pests and disease. The farming can be a lot more labour intensive and the cost of organic feed is much higher than non organic feed. These costs are passed on to the consumer making organic food more expensive to buy than conventionally produced food. Whilst many people are more than willing to pay more for their food because it is organic, during times of hardship and recession people are less likely to buy organic when they can get the same food for a cheaper price.
Organic farming also requires far more land to grow the same amount of produce as conventional farming does, because chemicals are not used to produce high yield crops. Using more land uses up more energy, for example through increased ploughing, and this can negate the benefits or organic farming because it produces more emissions. The debate about the benefits and disadvantages of organic farming has become more prevalent over recent years, as climate change and global food production have become much larger public issues.
References: http://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-faq/oa-faq6/en/ http://unctad.org/en/Docs/ditcted200715_en.pdf http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2012/120904.html http://www.nature.com/news/organic-farming-is-rarely-enough-1.10519 http://www.ifoam.org/growing_organic/2_policy/criticisms_misconceptions_main_page.php