A key question that is often asked about ecological agriculture, including organic agriculture, is whether it can be productive enough to meet the world's food needs. While many agree that ecological agriculture is desirable from an environmental and social point of view, there remain fears that ecological and organic agriculture produce low yields.
Below is a summary by Lim Li Ching, a researcher with Third World Network, of the available evidence to demystify the productivity debate and demonstrate that ecological agriculture is indeed productive, especially so in developing countries.
A recent study examined a global dataset of 293 examples and estimated the average yield ratio (organic : non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and developing world (Badgley et al., 2007). For most of the food categories examined, they found that the average yield ratio was slightly less than 1.0 for studies in the developed world, but more than 1.0 for studies in developing countries.
On average, in developed countries, organic systems produce 92% of the yield produced by conventional agriculture. In developing countries, however, organic systems produce 80% more than conventional farms.
With the average yield ratios, the researchers then modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. They found that organic methods could hypothetically produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without putting more farmland into production.
Moreover, contrary to fears that there are insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers, the data suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use.
This model suggests that organic agriculture could potentially provide enough food globally, but without the negative environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.
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