Organic Farming And Food Security

Organic Farming And Food Security Julia Jestl, Zuzana Luptáková and Kíra Kertész The aim of the essay is to answer the following questions: What is t...
Author: April Heath
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Organic Farming And Food Security Julia Jestl, Zuzana Luptáková and Kíra Kertész

The aim of the essay is to answer the following questions: What is the relationship between organic farming and the food security? Is it possible to improve food security with organic farming? To answer these we need to first define the phrases. In the context of food security it is really important to understand organic agriculture as a holistic production management system which not only avoids synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and GMOs but minimizes the environmental pollution and optimizes the health and productivity of interdependent communities of plants, animals and people. The newest technology is used and the non-food benefits (like increased need for labor which results in higher employment, landscape preservation, network building, empowerment of the farmers, etc)

are as important as the food benefits. The social

aspects of the organic agriculture must be considered when it comes to food security. Organic agriculture not only includes the certificated farms but also non-certified organic food production which is really important in developing countries. Food security is when people have access in a physical, social and economical way too to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food. And this food should meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.1 According to the FAO food security has four dimensions: availability, access, stability and utilization. The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or inputs. Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economics and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources). To be food secure, a 1 Http://

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population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk loosing access to food as a consequences of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security. Another dimension is utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs to food security. Food security is mostly a problem in the developing countries, especially Africa, Asia, Oceania. (In the Western world, the people who are affected by food insecurity have social reasons; the food is available but they cannot afford it.) It depends as much on governmental policies and market prices as it does on yields. Subsistence production of basic food is restricted in many regions by lack of access to capital, land and water. The major constraints to food security is found in social, economic and political conditions rather than in production methods themselves. However, the demand for food will increase in the future so the production issues of organic farming need to be addressed.2 In developing countries the increased production by farmers should increase both the food production and access to food. Because these farmers are usually already producing in a low-input way, if they have access to the newest adequate technology, especially knowledge, enough labor and other resources like land and water their production should increase. Conventional agriculture focuses only on the short-term gains and in most cases it is not sustainable in the long term. Its methods are inadequate for disadvantaged farming communities and are thus not a suitable solution for many of those who face food shortage. Organic agriculture is well suited for these rural communities because it is adapted to the actual environmental, social, and cultural conditions and resources, possibilities and knowledge. It is creating an agro-ecosystem which is sustainable for a long term. Also, it builds up levels of natural, human, social, financial and physical capital

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in farming communities while using the local resources. 3 However, there are limits to the benefits of organic agriculture because this is only a mode of production and it is dependent on the social, political, economical systems of the countries and the world. The yield rates of the organic farming is a very controversial question. There are many researches and many different results depending on the viewpoint of the researcher. The lowest estimations of yield rates are 50 percent less of the conventional agriculture; the average seems to be 70-80 % of the conventional agriculture but there are studies which show that the organic agriculture's yield can be the same or even improve the production rates. The FAO Report concludes that a broad scale shift to organic agriculture can produce enough food on a global per capital basis to feed the world's population over the next 50 years. Therefore, as the myth of “low yield organic agriculture” recedes governments and researchers should invest in long-term alternative agricultural systems. The yield depends on many factors, and the technique is only one of them. Others include the climate, the soil, the species of crops or animals, the technology, the knowledge, etc. Also, these estimated numbers are based on the conversion from conventional to organic farming; and not from low-input to organic. In this latter case the researches show that the yield is higher however, the farmers need to adapt the method to their own specific situation in the most effective way. IFPRI's IMPACT model shows that if 50 percent of the world's agriculture was shifted to organic there would be relatively little impact on the Western world but the sub-Saharan Africa would likely increase food availability


decrease the food import dependency. The current malnutrition rates wouldn't change but that is because of the social-political-economical systems. 4 Poor households cannot afford production risks and maximum yields are not as important as securing food for the family. Organic fields show lower fluctuations in yields and diversification is the best assurance in cases of a single crop failure, environmental adversity or socio-economic shocks. With the intensification of weather extremes, increasing the resilience in agro-ecosystems to weather has become an imperative,

3 Http:// 4 Summary of the outcome of the International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security

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especially in agriculture-based economies.5 The global climate change hurts the world's poorest the most and a shift to organic agriculture could be beneficial to cope with the changes. Usually when we were speaking about most problematic parts of the world, we were only speaking about Africa. Just lately FAO changed his rhetoric because they assign to the most problematic countries even the Central-Asia, Oceania and some other regions of the world. Even today there are some opinions that Europe and Central-Asia are not the most problematic regions. On the other hand the subregional office of FAO for central Asia was established. That shows that there are big opportunities for agriculture in Central Asia, but they are not used. For example, there is 23 millions ha of agricultural land in the exmember states of the Soviet Union, which is not used. If only 15 millions returns to production, it could markedly contribute to solving hunger in the world. After explaining the opportunities of organic agriculture to improve food security we would like to show a positive example. In Ethiopia the government promoted organic agriculture by the Tigray Project which was successful. The main question was: "Is there sufficient biomass in Ethiopia to make adequate quantities of compost?" This is the question most often raised whenever there is any suggestion that Ethiopia could use organic principles to increase crop yields. In 1995, Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, on behalf of the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), was asked by some government officials to design a project that could be promoted with farmers of poor and marginal areas in order to improve the productivity of their land and rehabilitate their environments. The project started in 1996 under the supervision of the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BoANR) of Tigray. The other partners in the project are Mekele University, the local communities and their local administration. Project activities in four communities were established in 1996/97 and 1997/98. After 2000, the project was extended to 11 other communities, with more than 634 people now participating. Much effort has been made to include households headed by women in the 5 Report of the International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security

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project because these are generally among the poorest of the poor in their villages. Since 2002, the BoANR has been promoting the compost-making ‘package’- trench bundling and planting multipurpose trees, particularly Sesbania - in over 90 communities within 25 Woredas (administrative districts) in the more marginal areas of the Region. In November 2001, ISD had some preliminary yield data showing the positive effects of using compost. More data on yields were collected in 2002, and these were equally impressive. Compost generally gave the highest yields, often out-performing chemical fertilizers, in a variety of crops and over the entire range of ecosystems from the moister areas in Southern Tigray with fertile alluvial soil, to the deforested Central Zone with moderate rainfall, and the arid Eastern Zone with poor, thin sandy soil An important feature of the Tigray Project is that it is to a large extent led by the farmers, who choose which crops to treat with compost and which with chemical fertilizer. As the data show, yield increases whenever compost is applied. The yields from compost are comparable, and higher than those from chemical fertilizer. Farmers who have learnt how to make and use compost effectively are not interested in continuing to use chemical fertilizer, i.e. they have willingly withdrawn the use of chemical fertilizer without any loss in production. Some farmers are even making their own observations on comparing compost with animal dung and/or chemical fertilizer. Some farmers diversified their production once the quality of their land improved. The Rural Development Policy, meanwhile, emphasizes the need to improve local marketing infrastructure, and also to develop agricultural products to diversify the economic base of the country. Last year, the government announced it will support the development of organic agriculture, and a task force was established to draw up an Ethiopian Organic Agriculture Regulation, which can become law, and a Regulation for Organic Agriculture Products to describe how organic products are defined, and what may or may not be used in their growing and processing. The documents cover crop and animal production, as well as food processing and marketing, with the second document providing a basis for a local organic certification scheme. Already, some communities in the south and southwest have started to develop and export Arabica coffee with an organic and fair trade label. There is also expanding awareness of

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the importance of producing healthy fruits and vegetables for the expanding educated middle-class and expatriate market in Addis Ababa. As a further development, the administration of the Woreda (administrative district) with one of the best sites of the Tigray Project, now wants to have the whole Woreda involved in the project. This will include 2 100 farming families divided in 16 ‘parishes’. The experience with the farmers in Tigray in producing and using compost shows that the aim for Ethiopia to have a substantial number of farmers producing organically can be realized. It also shows that the introduction of ecologically sound organic principles can have very quick positive impacts on the productivity and well-being of smallholder farmers so that they do not necessarily have to face a conversion period of reduced yields as they change from chemical to organic production. Most farmers, particularly those in marginal areas, are not able to afford external inputs, so for them an organic production management system offers a real and affordable means to break out of poverty and obtain food security. It is important to bear in mind that although it may be external market interests that initially stimulate the development of a policy environment for organic agriculture, the benefits should be available to all members of the local society to build a healthy and food-secure future for Ethiopia. Despite all the skepticisms if conventional farmers adopted only some of the principles of organic agriculture such as soil health and ecology, the results would strongly benefit the farmers, the consumers and the environment as well as shown in the Ethiopian example. Conclusion Organic farming adapts to the conditions, thus the food availability improves. The access to food depends on many factors but one of them is the disposable income of the people. By giving jobs to more people the organic agriculture provides them this money to spend on adequate food. Because of the adaptability and diversity of the organic farming the risks decrease and the food stability improves. Food utilization is not really affected by the organic farming as it depends on the food processing and other factors but it is not worse than in conventional or low-input agriculture. But to realize the potential of organic agriculture it is necessary to create and adapt the appropriate way of production for the Page 6

specific situations and conditions.

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International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security (Rome, 3-5 May 2007) - Report

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