Meeting the food security challenge through organic agriculture
States should integrate organic agriculture objectives within national priorities, FAO says
3 May 2007, Rome – “Organic agriculture is no longer a phenomenon in developed countries only, as it is commercially practiced in 120 countries, representing 31 million hectares and a market of US$40 billion in 2006,” FAO underlines in a paper, Organic Agriculture and Food Security, presented here at an International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security (3-5 May 2007).
The paper identifies the strengths and weaknesses of organic agriculture with regards to its contribution to food security, analyzes attributes of organic supply chains against the Right to Food framework and proposes policy and research actions for improving the performance of organic agriculture at the national, international and institutional levels.
“The strongest feature of organic agriculture is its reliance on fossil-fuel independent and locally-available production assets; working with natural processes increases cost-effectiveness and resilience of agro-ecosystems to climatic stress,” the paper says.
“By managing biodiversity in time (rotations) and space (mixed cropping), organic farmers use their labour and environmental services to intensify production in a sustainable way. Organic agriculture also breaks the vicious circle of indebtedness for agricultural inputs which causes an alarming rate of farmers’ suicides.”
The paper recognizes that “most certified organic food production in developing countries goes to export” and adds that “when certified cash crops are linked with agro-ecological improvements and accrued income for poor farmers, this leads to improved food self-reliance and revitalization of small holder agriculture.”
Knowledge and labour intensive
The paper underlines that some requirements should be met when converting to organic agriculture, mainly agro-ecological knowledge and labour availability. “Organic management is a knowledge-based approach requiring understanding of agro-ecological processes and it remains a constraint where labour is scarce, such as in populations decimated by HIV/AIDS.”
However, labour requirements on organic farms, and the better return on labour, provide employment opportunities where this resource is most abundant, thus safeguarding rural livelihoods, according to FAO expert Nadia Scialabba.
The paper also quotes recent models of a global food supply grown organically which indicate that organic agriculture could produce enough food on a global per capita basis for the current world population.
“These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture is today, but with reduced environmental impact,” according to FAO.
The paper calls on governments to “allocate resources for organic agriculture and to integrate its objectives and actions within their national agricultural development and poverty reduction strategies, with particular emphasis on the needs of vulnerable groups.”
It also insists on investment in human resource development and skill training in organic agriculture as part of sustainable development strategies.
Definition of organic agriculture
According to the Codex Alimentarius Commission and all existing national regulations, “organic agriculture is a holistic production management system that avoids use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes the health and productivity of interdependent communities of plants, animals and people.”
The International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security is organized by FAO in partnership with Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica, le Centre international de hautes études agronomiques méditerranéennes, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, the Rural Advancement Foundation International, the World Wildlife Fund, the Third World Network, the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture and the Worldwatch Institute.
Media Relations, FAO
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