"Can organic farming feed the world?" I think this is a very important question because I believe that conventional farming, including genetically modified crops, is one of the biggest threats to our planet. When I have discussed this with various people, most agree with me that organic food is the most healthy to eat, but many argue that the practice of organic farming, in replacement of conventional farming, would not provide enough food for all the world, and people would starve. Personally, I think that philosophy is propaganda that they may have heard from companies like Monsanto and its advocates. I believe that organic farming can indeed feed the world better than conventional farming, and benefit our planet in the process.
The Major Players:
There are two main groups concerned in the issue of whether or not organic farming can feed the world: Those who believe organic farming can feed the world, such as natural health advocates, scientists that are pro-organic farming, and organic farmers; and those who do not believe organic farming can feed the world, such as Monsanto and other companies that provide GMO products, scientists that are pro-conventional farming, and conventional farmers.
In order to really understand this argument, we must first be clear on exactly what organic farming really is. As defined by the USDA:
Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used (National, 2012).
One thing that both sides of the issue can agree on is the proven fact that organic farming is better for, and causes less impact on, the environment, as well as yielding better soil quality than conventional farming, (Chiras &Reganold, 2010). In fact, a USDA report confirmed that "organic farming is energy-efficient, environmentally sound, productive, and stable, and helps promote long-term sustainability" (Chiras & Reganold, 2010).
Conventional farming is also becoming very expensive, which is a detriment to farmers, and many people are becoming concerned about the environmental, economic, and social impact of conventional farming. They are hoping to find alternative, more sustainable agriculture practices (Chiras & Reganold, 2010).
As with any controversial subject, there are two sides to this argument. We will begin with the negative side. Simon Fairlie, author for Mother Earth News, coined the proponents of conventional (and genetically engineered) farming practices as "Global Opponents of Organic Farming", with the acronym, GOOF (2012). According to Fairlie, 28 GOOFs who represent the big agrochemical companies, Monsanto and Sygenta, signed a declaration summarized by Fairlie:
To provide sufficient nitrogen to feed the future population of 8.5 billion people, which industrialization will spawn, we will have to resort not only to chemical fertilizers, but also to genetic manipulation. Any attempt to secure nitrogen and other nutrients through natural, organic means would require undue encroachment upon natural habitats — if not their total destruction. If we want to feed the world and preserve biodiversity, then we’d better continue with industrial agriculture. Rather than share agricultural land with nature, we should spare land elsewhere. To protect nature we have to farm unnaturally.
Although Fairlie voiced his dislike for the GOOFs, he did acknowledge that they might not be wrong.
In addition to this compelling declaration from the GOOFs, scientists from two universities, McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota, did an analysis on 66 studies that were performed on 34 different crop species. Their findings were that conventional farming outperformed organic farming overall. In particular, they noted that conventional farming did 5% better on legume crops such as alfalfa and beans, and in fruit tree crops. Conventional farming yielded 25% better in crops like corn, wheat, and broccoli (Biello, 2012).
Besides, Biello points out, conventional farming is much simpler than organic farming. A conventional farmer needs the knowledge to manage the "inputs" such as synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, and how to lay out fields in the most productive way. On the other hand, he states that an organic farmer "must learn to manage an entire ecosystem geared to producing food—controlling pests through biological means, using the waste from animals to fertilize fields and even growing one crop amidst another". Biello notes that this involves the knowledge of the complex tasks of creating the right nutrients at the right time and controlling pests without the use of synthetic chemicals.
After these very convincing negative arguments, one might wonder how there can really be valid positive side. However, as stated above, there are two sides to every controversial subject. Let us take a look at the overwhelming input from those who support organic farming.
In 1979, in response to the problem the farmers were facing due to the rising cost of conventional farming, the USDA conducted a study to evaluate the economic and ecological impact of organic farming in the US, and to see if it was a viable alternative. They concluded that "organic farming is energy-efficient, environmentally sound, productive, and stable, and helps promote long-term sustainability" Chiras & Reganold, 2010).
There have also been studies done that conclude that organic farming is indeed a very viable means for feeding the world, in comparison to conventional farming. For example, Ivette Perfecto, a professor at the University of Michigan's school of Natural Resources and Environment, headed the analysis of 293 studies (Organic, 2007). Perfecto and her colleagues were amazed at how much food organic farming could produce. In fact, they found that "organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming in both developed and developing countries" (Scheer, 2012) The conclusion of their studies was submitted as a report to the Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems journal (Organic, 2007). In their report, they specified, "Model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base." Perfecto commented, "Corporate interest in agriculture and the way agriculture research has been conducted in land grant institutions, with a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies, all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food" (Organic, 2007).
Here are some other convincing findings, from the article Can Organic Farming End World Hunger, that also strongly support the idea of organic farming's ability to feed the world (Can, 2012):
· "A series of peer-reviewed papers published by the international journal, Nature, showed that organic methods for growing rice, corn and wheat all produced significantly higher yields—and at less the cost—than monoculture [conventional] farms."
· "Research at England’s Essex University has shown that farmers in India, Kenya, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras have doubled or tripled their yields by switching to organic agriculture."
· "Cuban farmers, who cannot access fertilizers and pesticides due to the U.S. embargo, have also realized greater yields by taking up organic farming."
In addition, Dr. Christos Vasilikiotis of the University of California, Berkeley, says that "chemically intensive farming is highly undesirable due to the toll it takes on the land and the pollution it generates" (Can, 2012). Undeniably, soil erosion and water pollution caused by agrochemicals has become increasingly alarming (Chiras & Reganold, 2010). According to Vasilikiotis, organic farming actually increases soil fertility and replaces top soil (Can, 2012). He stresses that, "only a conversion to organic farming will allow us to maintain and even increase current crop yields.”
Organic farming has been at a disadvantage for many years because of Government subsidizing and government research funding of conventional farming that was due to the convenience and initial success of monocropping--growing the same crop on the same field year after year-- that conventional farming allowed (Chiras & Reganold, 2010). However, more research is now being done on organic farming, due to the problems brought on by conventional farming(Chiras & Reganold, 2010). Because of this, there are more improved techniques being found, and better natural pest control methods, which are helping to make organic farming even better for the environment and more economically beneficial than conventional farming (Can, 2012).
My Stance and Rationale:
Not only is organic farming well-known for being the more healthy option, but with all the evidence here to back it up, I believe that it is also the most environmentally viable and economically equipped option to feed the world, in comparison to conventional farming.
One thing I noticed in my research was that the main proponents of conventional farming against organic farming were those who had something to lose, such as the GOOFS, so named by Simion Fairlie in his article cited above (2012). Monsanto and Sygenta, and other such companies involved in genetical engineering and agrochemicals, would certainly lose profits or even go out of business if organic farming became the desired agricultural method. It is understandable and obvious to me that they would want to debunk the obvious value that organic farming can add to our world.
On the other hand, the proponents of organic farming, and its ability to feed the world, were people who did not seem to have a stake in the outcome of their studies. Since their evidence seemed to be much more unbiased, plentiful, and supported, I would be more inclined to believe them.
Based on my findings above, I am fully convinced that if conventional farming is continued in the way that it has been, the soil erosion and pollution that it causes will gradually decrease this method's crop yield, until it will not be able to keep up with world demand. On the other hand, the more organic farming is used, I am convinced it will continue to improve the soil quality, have less negative impact on the environment, increase profits for farmers, and be more likely able to feed the world now and in the future, than conventional farming.
Biello, D. (2012, April 25). Will organic food fail to feed the world? Retrieved October 26, 2012,
from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=organic-farming-yields-and-feeding-the-world-under- climate-change
Can organic farming end world hunger? (2012). Retrieved October 17, 2012, from
Chiras, D. D., & Reganold, J. P. (2010). Natural resource conservation (10th ed.). Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Fairlie, S. (2012, July 10) Can organic farming feed the world? Retrieved October 17, 2012, from
National organic program [Fact sheet]. (2012, June 6). Retrieved October 17, 2012, from
Organic farming yields as good or better - study. (2007, July 11). Retrieved October 17, 2012, from
Scheer, R. (2007, July 15) Can organic farming save the world? Retrieved October 17, 2012, from