Can organic agriculture sustainably feed the world in 2050

There is no clear-cut answer. Adrian Müller, senior researcher at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), and his co-authors show that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture reduces nitrogen surplus and pesticide use but needs more land than conventional agriculture because it has lower yields.Dec 4, 2017

Can organic agriculture feed the world sustainably?

As a consequence, the ability of organic agriculture to feed the world sustainably has been challenged 19, 20. Some authors contribute to the discussion on lower yields in organic agriculture by considering nutrient availability, but none of these provide a robust analysis of nutrient availability in organic production systems 19, 20, 21.

Does organic agriculture use more land and N-surplus?

Here we show that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use.

Can organic food prevent a global food shortage?

Organic farmers can use non-synthetic pesticides such as copper and sulphur-based compounds (which can, in fact, be more toxic than their synthetic alternatives, though that’s a different story), but these products would struggle to prevent worldwide food shortages.

Does adoption of organic agriculture increase land demand?

Our results show that adoption of organic agriculture by itself increases land demand with respect to conventional production, but it has advantages in terms of other indicators, such as reduced nitrogen surplus, and pesticide use.

Can organic farming sustain the world?

The truth is that yes, organic can feed the world! Organic can compete with conventional yields and outperform conventional in adverse weather. Small farmers using organic methods have huge potential to expand global food production.

Is it possible to feed the growing global human population using organic agriculture in 2050?

According to estimates compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by 2050 we will need to produce 60 per cent more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion. Doing that with a farming-as-usual approach would take too heavy a toll on our natural resources.

Does organic farming have a future in?

Although organic farming will not be able to feed a growing global population and its increasing demand for livestock products, there is no doubt that the organic food market still has a bright future.

How will we feed the world in 2050?

Reducing food loss and waste by 25 percent by 2050 would close the food gap by 12 percent, the land gap by 27 percent and the GHG mitigation gap by 15 percent. Actions to take include measuring food waste, setting reduction targets, improving food storage in developing countries and streamlining expiration labels.

What will agriculture be like in 2050?

“By 2050, there will be gene-edited crops, and it will trigger a much wider variety of crops being grown,” says Norman. This new technology allows scientists to precisely edit genes in DNA with the goal of creating a better crop variety.

Can agriculture be sustainable and still feed a growing human population?

Sustainable agriculture is already proving that it is capable of producing food for growing populations. Compared to conventional agriculture, sustainable farming practices offer a combination of methods that regenerate soils, save water and energy, and provide greater diversity of nutrients for our consumption.

Why is organic farming important for the future?

Organic farming lowers the risk of environmental pollution and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by severely restricting the use of manufactured chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which come from burning fossil fuels.

Can organic farming be a sustainable method of food production for the future?

Since it does not include the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, organic agriculture is very sustainable in many aspects. Organic farms tend to have more fertile soil, use less energy, and sequester more carbon.

How does organic agriculture contribute to sustainable development?

These methods, together with cultivation of a diverse range of crops, stabilize the delicate ecosystems in the tropics and reduce drought sensitivity and pest infestation. Organic agriculture reduces the risk of yield failure, stabilizes returns and improves the quality of life of small farmers’ families.

Will we run out of food in 2050?

According to Professor Cribb, shortages of water, land, and energy combined with the increased demand from population and economic growth, will create a global food shortage around 2050.

Can farmers grow enough food for everyone?

The world’s farmers produce enough food to feed 1.5x the global population. That’s enough to feed 10 billion (we are at 7.6 billion currently).

Will the world be able to feed itself in the foreseeable future?

Because of growing global population — experts estimate the world will have 10 billion mouths to feed in 2050, vesus 7.3 billion today — agricultural output will need to increase by 50 percent, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in “The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges.”

How many people will be fed by organic farming by 2050?

Only with this three-pronged approach will organic farming be a sustainable method for feeding nine billion people by 2050, the study states.

How would the conversion of regular agricultural land to organic farming affect the global food system?

Then, they separately factored in two more hypothetical changes to the global food system: decreased food waste, and decreased production of animal feed crops– like soybeans and corn. (The latter would reduce the amount of land required to grow animal feed, decrease livestock numbers, and therefore necessitate a less meaty diet globally.)

What would happen if we expanded organic farming?

If we dramatically expanded organic farming across the globe, we could reduce pesticide and fertilizer use, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and feed the world, says a new study published in Nature Communications. But this comes with conditions: in order to offset the much larger land requirements of organic agriculture, we’d have to combine it with reduced food waste and increasing vegetarianism, globally.

Can organic farming help feed the world?

But the researchers underline the study’s main takeaway: if we take a more holistic view of our food systems–factoring in elements like food waste and meat consumption–organic farming could gain the leverage it needs to feed the world, without chewing up vast tracts of land. As the authors conclude, future food production should “take up these challenges on the consumption side, and not only focus on sustainable production.”

How many people will be fed by organic farming in 2050?

But when combined with complementary changes in the global food system, namely changed feeding rations, and correspondingly reduced animal numbers, and changed wastage patterns, organic agriculture can contribute to feeding more than 9 billion people in 2050, and do so sustainably.

What are the environmental impacts of organic farming in 2050?

Year 2050 environmental impacts of a full conversion to organic agriculture. Environmental impacts of organic scenarios (100% organic agriculture, yellow lines) are shown relative to the reference scenario (0% organic agriculture, blue lines), with (dotted lines) and without (solid lines) impacts of climate change on yields; Calories are kept constant for all scenarios. Indicators displayed: cropland use, deforestation, GHG emissions (incl. deforestation, organic soils), N-surplus and P-surplus, water use, non-renewable energy use, soil erosion, pesticide use

What would happen if we converted to organic agriculture?

A 100% conversion to organic agriculture would lead to reduced impacts for a range of other environmental indicators besides the ones already discussed above (Fig. 4 ). An exception is the soil erosion potential, which increases by 10–20%, compared to the reference scenario (i.e. a 20–30% increase if compared to the base year; ranges relate to the effects with and without ICC). This is due to the increased land area under organic production and the conservative assumption of similar soil erosion rates under organic and conventional production. P-surplus remains at almost the same level as in the reference situation, due to the assumption that organic systems operate with similar levels of non-renewable P inputs as conventional systems. This is a conservative estimate, because soil-available P, and P from organic inputs is often taken into account by organic producers when deciding on fertilization levels. Due to lack of data, we do not model this. With respect to non-renewable energy demand, a 19–27% decrease can be achieved (mainly due to synthetic fertilizer reduction, and due to differences in energy use as reported in the Ecoinvent 2.0 database), compared to the reference situation (i.e. a 4–14% decrease if compared to the base year). Even GHG emissions can be somewhat reduced with this strategy, by 3–7% compared to the reference scenario if emissions from deforestation and organic soils are included, but still representing an increase of 8–12% in comparison to the base year. This net reduction under 100% conversion to organic agriculture arises because emissions from fertilized soils drop considerably and the emissions from synthetic fertilizer production that also contribute significantly drop to zero, while the emissions from livestock and methane from rice increase only slightly. In sum, these effects offset increased emissions due to higher land use and deforestation. As this reduction is thus mainly due to the generally lower nitrogen fertilization levels (no mineral fertilizers) with corresponding lower emissions from fertilizer application in organic production, it is important to emphasize that any increase in N-supply to address these critically low N levels in organic agriculture would correspondingly increase N 2 O-emissions from fertilizer applications. It would thus lessen the reduction in GHG emissions or even change it to a zero or slightly increasing effect. We also emphasize that these emissions calculations follow the IPCC guidelines and do not refer to recent meta-studies on emission factors 32. Skinner et al. 32 find rather higher emission factors for organic than for conventional production. On the other hand, they find that total N inputs are only a weak determinant for total emissions for organic production while they are a good determinant for conventional systems. However, evidence is not yet robust enough to deviate from the classical IPCC approach in such a global food systems model. We thus do not use adapted emission factors for different production systems and types of fertilizers and do not challenge the proportionality to inputs for organic production. A relatively small part of the difference in GHG emissions again reflects the difference in energy use. Without emissions from deforestation and organic soil loss, GHG emissions are reduced by 11–14% (still representing an increase from the baseline by 12–14%). Water use is similar to that in the reference scenario, which means an increase of 60%, compared to the base year. This occurs because, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we assumed similar water demand per tonne output for organic and conventional systems. In contrast to total areas, total production volumes do not change much, as by assumption, all scenarios supply the same calorie and protein levels. Since synthetic pesticides are not used in organic agriculture, their impacts correspondingly drop to zero. However, this does not account for increases in non-synthetic pesticides in organic systems, such as copper (organic management allows for some non-synthetic pesticides that can potentially be harmful to the environment).

How can organic agriculture help the world?

Organic agriculture can only contribute to providing sufficient food for the 2050 population and simultaneously reducing environmental impacts from agriculture, if it is implemented in a well-designed food system in which animal feeding rations, and as a consequence reduced animal numbers and animal product consumption, and food wastage are addressed. Solely converting to 100% organic production within an agricultural production system that should provide the same quantities and composition of outputs as in the reference scenario is not viable and would lead to increased agricultural land use. To be able to comprehensively assess the potential and challenges of a global conversion to organic agriculture, modelling the consequences of such a conversion needs to be based on a comprehensive food systems perspective, as has been adopted here, rather than simply addressing organic yield gaps. The key-challenges of land demand, and to a lesser extent N-supply, for large-scale conversion to organic production also reflect the multi-factorial perspective on maintaining soil fertility, nutrient recycling and ecosystem services, instead of adopting a maximum yield goal for single crops as a stand-alone performance criterion.

How does agriculture affect the environment?

However, this has led to considerable adverse environmental impacts, such as increases in reactive nitrogen over-supply, eutrophication of land and water bodies, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and biodiversity losses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. It is commonly assumed that by 2050, agricultural output will have to further increase by 50% to feed the projected global population of over 9 billion 7. This challenge is further exacerbated by changing dietary patterns. It is, therefore, crucial to curb the negative environmental impacts of agriculture, while ensuring that the same quantity of food can be delivered. There are many proposals for achieving this goal, such as further increasing efficiency in production and resource use, or adopting holistic approaches such as agroecology and organic production, or reducing consumption of animal products and food wastage 8, 9, 10, 11.

Why is it important to produce the same amount of calories and protein as in the reference scenario?

The general condition to produce the same amount of calories or protein as in the reference scenario is chosen to assure comparability of viability and impacts of the different scenarios with the reference scenario. Clearly, for many countries, these amounts are very high and it can legitimately be discussed, whether providing such amounts of food is a useful and realistic strategy; this is partly captured in the scenarios that include food wastage reductions. For other countries, the amounts forecasted are clearly at the lower end and for food security reasons should be increased. Given that the total global amount of calories and protein available is well enough to feed the world of 9 billion people, different assumptions on trade and on domestically available quantities in the reference scenarios could in principle deal with these issues. All this is not taken up in the scenarios presented here, for the above-mentioned reasons of comparability.

How does reducing food-competing feed affect dietary composition?

With a reduction in food-competing feed, dietary composition changes considerably. The share of animal products in total protein supply drops from 38 to 11% with 100% reduction in food-competing feed 26. For 100% reduction in food-competing feed, driven by the lower animal numbers, the model increases legume area shares by up to 20% for all production systems to compensate for the loss in animal proteins. Therefore, increasing shares of organic production do not further increase legume area shares, which are already at 20% of total cropland, but leads to lower yields. This explains the decreasing legume shares in diets with increasing organic production shown in Supplementary Figs. 5 – 8. The role of legumes also shows that scenarios with reduced food-competing feed and scenarios with increasing organic shares ideally complement each other. Increasing legume shares are needed to compensate for decreasing animal protein supply (food-competing feed reduction scenarios) and to assure nitrogen supply (organic scenarios). The effects of climate change and yield gaps on diets are also much smaller than the impact of the level of reducing food-competing feed (Supplementary Figs. 5 – 8 ). This is due to the scenario definitions that stay as close as possible to the reference scenario, including relative commodity shares. This also applies to legume shares for which the effects of climate change and yield gaps are much smaller than the impact of the level of food-competing feed.

How much is the yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture?

Since organic agriculture depends heavily on the variability of various natural factors, crop yields tend to be smaller.

Is synthetic pesticide used in organic farming?

The use of synthetic pesticides is forbidden in organic farming — one of the main motivations for consumers buying these products. However, Mulet points out that many of the natural products applied to organic crops are also extremely harmful for the environment.

What is the biggest threat to global harvests?

The same goes for diseases. Currently the biggest threat to global harvests is probably wheat rust, a devastating fungal disease of wheat. Rust is now controlled by the application of fungicides. Without these chemicals huge outbreaks of rust would likely occur, and the spores would travel great distances on the winds, quickly affecting harvests globally.

Why will the divide become ever greater in the future?

As Michael Le Page has pointed out in New Scientist: “This divide will become ever greater in the future, because the organizations that set the rather arbitrary standards for what counts as ‘organic’ have firmly rejected the technology showing the greatest promise for reducing farming emissions: genetic modification.”.

Is artificial nitrogen fixation good for the planet?

Mueller et al. do show a substantial nitrogen deficit for a 100 percent organic planet, but argue that this is a good thing because it reduces greenhouse gases and pollution of water systems.

Do organic farms have halo effect?

Organic farms benefit from ‘halo effect’ in controlling pests. Photo by Genetic Literacy Project. A similar challenge applies for synthetic pesticides, which are noisily avoided in organic farming. To my knowledge, none of the published studies account for the halo effect of existing synthetic pesticide use, which helps protect neighboring organic …

Can organic farms learn from each other?

In a logical world, organic and conventional farms would be able to cross-fertilize and learn from each other while benefiting from scientific innovations such as genetic modification. Regrettably, the polarizing effect of the organic label continues to be a hindrance rather than a help in the search for more sustainable agriculture.

Can organic seeds be used for gene editing?

Organic organizations have unfortunately also come out against new gene editing techniques, although bizarre organic standards allow the use of seeds developed using the much blunter instruments of radiation or chemical mutagenesis.

Is vegetarianism bad for the environment?

The problem is that however desirable vegetarianism might be both environmentally and for human health, global consumption of animal products is going up not down as developing countries achieve higher standards of living . And the food waste issue is incredibly complex and intractable. Just think how much food each one of us throws away and why.

How can organic farming help the world?

Organic farming can help to both feed the world and preserve wildland. In a study published this year, researchers modeled 500 food production scenarios to see if we can feed an estimated world population of 9.6 billion people in 2050 without expanding the area of farmland we already use.

Why is organic farming better than conventional farming?

Overall, organic farms tend to have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion compared to their conventional counterparts. Organic agriculture generally creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions, and is more energy efficient. Organic agriculture is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity.

Why is organic farming more profitable?

Despite lower yields, organic agriculture is more profitable (by 22–35%) for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more.

How much land does organic farming take up?

Organic agriculture occupies only 1% of global agricultural land, making it a relatively untapped resource for one of the greatest challenges facing humanity: producing enough food for a population that could reach 10 billion by 2050, without the extensive deforestation and harm to the wider environment.

Is organic farming sustainable?

Realistically, we can’t expect everyone to forgo meat. Organic isn’t the only sustainable option to conventional farming either. Other viable types of farming exist, such as integrated farming where you blend organic with conventional practices or grass-fed livestock systems.

Is organic farming good for the environment?

Organic farming is one of the healthiest and strongest sectors in agriculture today and will continue to grow and play a larger part in feeding the world. It produces adequate yields and better unites human health, environment and socioeconomic objectives than conventional farming.

How much more land do we need to grow meat?

If we keep eating meat as we do today, we’ll need over 50 percent more cropland than we use today.

What does Erb say about food availability?

Erb says that “business as usual” scenarios for food availability are possible. But he admits that even aside from the ecological costs they entail, there is also the question of whether they are desirable.

Why did Vivero blame the “commodification” of food?

Vivero blames the “commodification” of food – the imperative to produce as much food as possible, as cheaply as possible – for a culture that takes food for granted. In the industrialised West, we assume we can eat meat as often as we like and think little of chucking a huge share of what we buy in the bin.

What does Vivero believe?

Vivero believes that when individual consumers make choices that have such a negative impact on others, the state needs to step in – for example by diverting the huge subsidies given to industrial farming to more sustainable practices, and by taxing or limiting meat sales.

What is Erb’s study about food security?

Erb stresses that his study was not about food security in general, but about ensuring that we are able to grow enough food, given current levels of consumption. It also makes no assessment of which scenarios might be preferable, in terms of environmental or social impact.

Can we have our cake and eat it?

Still, we can’t have our cake and eat it. A balance has to found between the kind of farming methods we want to use, preserving natural habitats, and our daily diet.

Can we feed the growing population without destroying our forests?

New research shows we can feed the growing population without destroying our forests – if we eat less meat. But with one in nine people already underfed, a change in how we think about food can’t come soon enough.

Leave a Comment