Organic Agriculture Can Fight Climate Change
By Spencer Leung 18 July, 2019
Leung, CEO of Go Organics, shows how organic agri is so much more than no pesticides & shares real world examples
When people think about organic product or organic food, many think about genuineness of the product. Is the product really organic? How do I know it is “real” organic? Etc, etc. In fact, if one is to ask this question, one needs to answer, what do you mean by organic? What is your definition of being an organic product?
The question to ask is not is it organic but what is does organic mean?
Indeed, there are many explanations and definitions for organic agriculture but all converge to state that it is a system that relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs, definition such as that put forwarded by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) :
|“Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It emphasises the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfil any specific function within the system.”
FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1999
However, being a member of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), I tend to prefer the definition of organic agriculture as put forward by the consensus of highly dedicated advocates through years of discussions and debates in a very succinct way:
|“Organic Agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic Agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”
What I like about this definition is it includes the consideration of “people”, “tradition”, “innovation” and “science” into consideration as well as in promoting “fair relationships” and “good quality of life” for ALL involved.
This definition covers all four Principles of Organic Agriculture, namely:
- The Principle of Health
- The Principle of Ecology
- The Principle of Fairness
- The Principle of Care
Organic agriculture addresses global climate change
Organic is much more than no pesticides, it can mitigate against climate change with reduced GHGs & energy
Many people choose organic products to avoid pesticides and GMOs. But did you know that organic can help mitigate climate change – as well as helping farmers to adapt to changing climate conditions?
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Because there is a direct correlation between nitrous oxide emissions and the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to agricultural land, and being that organic farming does not allow the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, focusing instead on establishing closed nutrient cycles, minimising losses via runoff, volatilization, and emissions, nitrogen levels on organic farms tend to be lower per hectare than on conventional farms which can contribute to a sustainable climate-friendly production system that delivers enough food.
Reducing Energy Use
Conventional agriculture uses vast quantities of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It takes significant amounts of energy to manufacture these chemicals. By relying on using internal farm inputs, not only will organic agriculture reducing fuel used for transportation, it eliminates the energy required to manufacture synthetic fertilizers by 30-70% per unit of land.
Helping Farmers to Adapt to Climate Change
As the climate changes, farmers are facing many challenges: more unpredictable rains, soil degradation, and new or different pests and diseases. Organic agriculture helps farmers adapt to climate change because high soil organic matter content and soil cover help to prevent nutrient and water loss. This makes soils more resilient to floods, droughts, and land degradation processes.The people working in organic food systems also work hard to preserve seed and crop diversity. This increases crop resistance to pests and disease. Maintaining this diversity also helps farmers evolve new cropping systems to adapt to climatic changes.
Organic also minimizes climate risks to farmers
Overall, organic enables farmers to minimize risk, as a result of stable agro-ecosystems and yields, and lower production costs.
Can organic agriculture also address the world’s water & social issues?
Yes. I truly believe so and there are countless examples proving that this can be done:
Greening the Desert (Egypt)
In 1977, Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish started the SEKEM Initiative, Egypt (www.sekem.com) on an untouched part of the Egyptian desert (70 hectares) 60 km northeast of Cairo. Using Biodynamic agricultural methods, desert land was revitalized and a striving agricultural business developed.
SEKEM is now a leading social business
Over the years, SEKEM became the umbrella of a multifaceted agro-industrial group of companies and NGOs, including different educational institutions and a Medical Center. Today, SEKEM is regarded as a leading social business worldwide.
Drought & Rainfall Examples (various locations)
As mentioned, farmers are exposed to climate change, especially droughts & floods. In the example below, you can see how organic agriculture can help them protect their crops and ultimately help them adapt.
System of Rice Intensification (Madagascar)
SRI has increased rice yields by more than 3x
In Madagascar, organic agriculture using System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method has increased yields from the usual 2-3 tons per hectare to 6-10 tons per hectare, while also using less water. More of the benefits from SRI are in the table below.
|Conventional Rice||SRI Rice|
|Land preparation||Bunded fields are puddled and leveled just prior to transplanting||Bunded fields are puddled and leveled just prior to transplanting.|
|Seed requirement||50-80 kg/ha||5 kg/ha|
|Seedling age when transplanted||15 – 30 days||8 – 12 days|
|Seedlings per hill||3 – 4||1|
|Spacing||Ranges from 10 x 20 cm to 30 x 30||25 x 25 cm or greater|
|Establishment||Transplant seedlings in square pattern or direct seed presoaked seed in rows at a rate of 80 kg/ha||Using a square pattern, carefully transplant a single young seedling so as not to damage the root system|
|Water management||Maintain 5-10 cm of standing water in field from transplanting to maturity. In direct seeded fields soils are kept moist but unflooded for 2 weeks after seeding. Intermittent irrigation is sometimes recommended in water scarce areas||irrigate intermittently every 5-8 days in order to maintain moist but not saturated conditions (commonly known as alternate wetting and drying or AWD).|
|Nutrient management||Mineral fertilizers applied at rates recommended by Leaf Color Chart* and/or Site Specific Nutrient Management* (SSNM) protocols. Addition of organic matter is recommended if available||Preference for organic inputs such as compost, manure, leaves, straw, or ash. Add mineral fertilizers on a supplemental basis|
|Weed control||Manual or mechanical control 1-2 times prior to canopy closure, or apply herbicides. Continuous flooding also controls weeds||Mechanical control using a rotary weeder 3-4 times prior to canopy closure|
“I hope next time… you go for organics”
I hope next time, when you go out to buy groceries, go for organics. It is good for you, your family and all people and organisms who all share our one and only one ecosystem.
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