Will Organic Food Fail to Feed the World?


Check out this recent article by David Biello in the Scientific American, where he discusses a new report by environment scientists at McGill University that examines organic agriculture’s ability to feed a population of 9 billion people.

The report suggests that although organic agriculture can protect soils by retaining water and can result in large yields of certain crops, such as alfalfa or beans, when it comes to major cereal crops, such as corn or wheat, and vegetables, such as broccoli, conventional methods delivered more than 25 percent more yield.

But high yields are not the only important quality of an effective agricultural system. Rather than depending on synthetic fertilizers that can be damaging to the environment, organic agriculture relies on ecological processes that promote biodiversity, healthier soils, and reduced groundwater pollution, among other benefits, all of which contribute to a healthier and more sustainable agricultural system overall.

As with all major environmental problems, there is no simple solution as to how to address our growing food needs. Report  author Verena Seufert argues that “Given the current precarious situation of agriculture, we should assess many alternative management systems, including conventional, organic, other agroecological and possibly hybrid systems to identify the best options to improve the way we produce our food.”

And we also need to make the most of the food that we already produce: According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to over 1.3 billion tons annually.


Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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