Our current world food production is more than sufficient to provide an adequate diet to all humans, yet more than 840 million people are suffering from hunger. Hunger is a problem of poverty, distribution, and access to food. The question then, is not “can organic farming feed the world”, but rather, how can we develop sustainable farming methods that have the potential to help the world feed and sustain itself.
Counter to the widely held belief that industrial agriculture is more efficient and productive, small farms produce far more per acre than large farms. The emphasis on small-scale family farms has the potential to revitalize rural areas and their economies. Industrial agriculture relies heavily on monocultures, the planting of a single crop throughout the farm simplifying management by using large, heavy machinery and chemicals.
Despite claims from the biotech industry and academic researches, the majority of genetically engineered crops currently in cultivation do not appear to show higher yields. As early as 1998, contrary to claims by Monsanto, a study by Dr. Charles Bendrook, the former director of the Board on Agriculture at the National Academy of Sciences, indicated that genetically engineered Roundup Ready soybeans did not increase yields. The report reviewed over 8,200 university trials in 1998 and found that Roundup Ready soybeans yielded 7-10% less than similar natural varieties. In addition, the same study found that farmers used 5-10 times more herbicide (Roundup) on Roundup Ready soybeans than on conventional ones. The only reason farmers seem to prefer Roundup Ready soybeans is because they simplify management of large chemically-intensive farms, by allowing them, for example, to spray larger doses of herbicides from planes on crops, engineered to be resistant to the particular herbicide. Applications of biotechnology continue the legacy of industrial agricultural with monocultures and high energy and chemical inputs.
Larger farms in the third world also tend to grow export luxury crops instead of providing staple foods to their growing population. This is encouraged by Government Aid programmes which recommend growing cash crops to repay loans thus depriving locals of their land to grow their own food. When locals, especially in the Third World, have small farms these are integrated farming systems where they plant a variety of crops maximizing the use of their land. They are also more likely to have livestock on their farm, which provides a variety of animal products to the local economy and manure for improving soil fertility. In such farms, though the yield per acre of a single crop might be lower than a large farm, total production per acre of all the crops and various animal products is much higher than large conventional farms. In all cases, the relationship between total production per unit area to farm size in 15 countries, the smaller farms are much more productive per unit area– 200 to 1000 percent higher – than larger ones.(Rosset,1999).
Even in the United States, the smallest farms, those 27 acres or less, have more than ten times greater dollar output per acre than larger farms (US Agricultural Census, 1992). Conversion to small organic farms therefore, would lead to sizeable increases of food production worldwide. Only organic methods can help small family farms survive, increase farm productivity, repair decades of environmental damage and knit communities into smaller, more sustainable distribution networks — all leading to improved food security around the world. When comparing the profitability of farming systems, organic cropping systems are always more profitable than the most common conventional cropping systems if the higher premiums that organic crops enjoy were factored in. Organic management practices promote soil health, water conservation and can reverse environmental degradation and is adopted worldwide will feed the world!