Can Organic Farming Feed the World?
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="202" caption="Ran Goel via LIA GRAINGER/METRO"] [/caption] You signed up for a Fresh City box. You’re on a first name basis with the herb guy at the farmers market. You singlehandedly keep the natural food store across the street in business. That is, you eat organic. You know its better for the soil, the rivers, the oceans, our climate and our collective health. But something gnaws away at you. Perhaps it’s a gut feeling or maybe something you overheard in conversation. Can organic farming feed the world? Must eating organic remain the purview of the privileged few? Is our current oil-thirsty and chemical-laden food production a necessary evil? As the Economist recently put it: "Traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. It cannot feed the world." Indeed, the received wisdom of the last few decades was that only conventional agriculture could feed a growing world population. But its becoming increasingly clear that the so-called efficiency of the current system is based on a systematic externalization of costs both within and across generations. As Dan Barber puts it, "we need the humbleness and clarity to see that our food, while benefitting from technological advances, has benefitted even more from free ecological resources: Cheap energy, lots of water everywhere, and a stable climate. But studies have shown these are eroding." Moreover, the current food system produces too much of the wrong crops. Prime amongst these is corn, half of which is used as animal feed to support our meat-laden diet and the rest of which is used to create the arsenal of processed foods that have ignited obesity rates around the world. We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations," wrote Olivier De Schutter in a recent UN report recommending policies to support small-scale organic farming. Organic farming decelerates global warming through less fossil fuel use, avoids ecological destruction from chemical use and improves food security due to its more decentralized nature. Its not that organic farming will not also require resources, but that the resources required – human labour – are renewable. This does not mean we revert to farming as it existed a century ago, wherein much of the population was engaged in food production. Indeed, organic farmers embrace innovation, technology and mechanization where they make ecological sense. While no one can definitively answer how a world of nine billion will be fed, more and more scientists and policymakers are recognizing that smaller-scale organic farming must be a big part of the answer. Enjoy your box, Ran Goel, Co-founder, Fresh City Farms