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July/August 2003

Organic agriculture: The challenge of sustaining food production while enhancing biodiversity

by Nadia El-Hage Scialabba

This paper was presented at the United Nations Thematic Group Sub-Group Meeting on Wildlife, Biodiversity and Organic Agriculture in Ankara, Turkey, 15-16 April 2003

In organic agriculture, biodiversity is both instrument and aim. Natural ecological balance, below and above ground, is key to its success. A healthy soil is the base for food production and a diversity of plants and animals on land prevents pest and disease outbreaks. Although organic agriculture is committed to the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity, many systems today remain limited to input substitution. In order to achieve the real potential organic agriculture can have on biodiversity, a stronger shift to a systems approach will be necessary, based on improved understanding of ecosystem functions.

This presentation describes the promising, but still scattered, results observed in organic agriculture systems. The food chain is described for soil systems, farming systems and the larger ecosystem. This involves descriptions of the impact of organic management on soil biodiversity, genetic resources for food and agriculture and wildlife biodiversity. The latter is substantiated by a series of 19 case studies, presented in Appendix. These case studies cover examples in Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Indonesia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Spain and the United States.

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