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

The question to ask is not - is it organic - but - what does organic mean - so to understand the impact organic agriculture can have on the entire ecosystem
Organic is much more than no pesticides by reducing GHG emissions, reduced energy use & helping farmers to mitigate against increasing climate risks like unpredictable rains etc.
Successful real world examples include greening the desert in Egypt into a leading social business & increasing rice yields >3x in Madagascar

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 ( 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.

Further Reading

  • Recycled Organics: Protecting Water In Sydney’s Food Bowl – CORE is protecting Sydney’s foodbowl with its Sustainable Amendments for Agriculture (SAFA) Program based on using recycled organics, which benefit the land & farmers. CORE’s Chief Executive, Christopher Rochfort, expands
  • Water-Energy-Food Security Nexus In Asia’s Large River Basins – The water-energy-food security nexus is complicated but as Maija Taka, Marko Keskinen & Olli Varis show, the tensions can be alleviated. Plus, they share 3 WEF cases in Asia’s largest river basins
  • 5 Reasons Plant-Based Will Be Unleashed In Asia – Are you ready for Asia’s plant-based revolution? David Yeung, Founder & CEO of Green Monday, shares 5 reasons its coming soon including that it is only a matter of time before the current global food system collapses
  • Role Of Businesses In Water Conservation – With the backdrop of Singapore’s industrial water challenges, Professor Asit Biswas & Dr Cecilia Tortajada show what Unilever & Nestle are doing on water management but also the behavioural challenges they face
  • Can Loop’s 21st Century Milkman Fix Plastic Plague – Called the 21st Century milkman, is Loop’s circular shipping platform the answer to our planets massive plastic problem? Corporate Knight’s Adria Vasil explores
  • More Food In A Changing Climate – China’s 120 million hectares of farmland, equivalent to 2x France, is threatened by urbanisation & rampant pollution. CWRs Hu on China’s challenging path to food security in a changing climate
  • Can Nepali Coffee Survive The Impacts Of Climate Change? – Coffee growers in Nepal’s hills are facing a double whammy; climate change and pests, which are also interlinked. Abhyaya Raj Joshi expands on the impacts so far & challenges to continue to produce
  • Global Agriculture & Water Scarcity –  With more than 25% of global agri grown in high water stress areas, WRI’s Frances Gassert tells us why tension between global crop production & water supply is expected to grow
  • 5 Facts On Crop Failures Due To Water Risks – In 2016 China suffered 44 million tonnes of crop failure due to droughts and floods. Check out China Water Risk’s Max Leung’s five facts to get the latest info and see which regions are most at risk
Spencer Leung
Author: Spencer Leung
Spencer Leung is a Rotary Peace Fellow and the Founder and CEO of GO Organics Co Ltd. He is based in Bangkok, Thailand but travel around the region connecting farmers to the market and promote socially inclusive organic product consumption.
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