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Organic Can Feed the World

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Organic agriculture is time and labor-intensive. A common misperception is that the fruit of these labors is less than that yielded through non-organic means. Additionally, it is often mistakenly assumed that organic cannot feed the world. In fact, several studies have shown that organic production is on par with, and sometimes superior to, conventional production levels, and that it offers a compelling and sustainable alternative to conventional approaches toward addressing the world’s hunger problems.

A United Nations report—Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Africa—released in October 2008 found organic farming offers African and other developing countries the most hope for feeding their people. Findings by the U.N. Environment Programme showed that organic practices raise yields, improve the soil, and boost the income of developing countries’ small farmers. Similarly, the Long-term Agro-ecological Research (LTAR) initiative at Iowa State University’s Neely-Kinyon Farm found yields equal or greater than conventional counterparts for organic corn, soybeans and oats. In 2007, for instance, the organic corn yielded more than the conventional with 209 bushels per acre compared to 188 bushes per acre for the conventional corn. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Michigan found that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming on the same amount of land in developing countries.

More recently, long-term trials at Iowa State University found that conventional and organic produced similar yields, while organic produced better profit, and resulted in better soil quality. Rodale Institute’s The Farming Systems Trial: Celebrating 30 years report highlighted six major findings from its long-term side-by-side field trial comparisons of organic and conventional systems that prove the benefits of organic agriculture. Additionally, an interdisciplinary team of researchers from several U.S. and international universities published a report in the Oct. 20, 2011, edition of Nature outlining solutions for a cultivated planet to meet growing food needs. They wrote, “To meet the world’s future food security and sustainability needs, food production must grow substantially while, at the same time, agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink dramatically.” They added, "Closing yield gaps without environmental degradation will require new approaches, including reforming conventional agriculture and adopting lessons from organic systems and precision agriculture."

In light of such findings, as well as the many personal health and environmental benefits that organic agriculture has to offer, it is becoming clearer that while it may take work, organic offers a sustainable solution that addresses the world’s hunger problems and the long-term health of the planet.