Organic farming alone will not ensure global food security, cautions UN agency

10 December 2007 – While organic farming produces nutritious food and represents a growing source of income for developed and developing countries, it cannot be relied on to ensure global food security, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

Responding to recent press reports suggesting that the agency endorses organic agriculture as the solution to world hunger, FAO’s Director-General said there was no reason to believe that the practice can substitute for conventional farming systems to feed the world’s hungry.

“We should use organic agriculture and promote it,” said Jacques Diouf. “But you cannot feed six billion people today and nine billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers.”

In 2006 organic farming – which excludes any chemical inputs – generated some $24 billion in sales in the European Union, United States, Canada and Asia. Roughly 2 per cent of the world’s cropland was farmed organically in 2005.

The data on the productivity of organic versus conventional farming show that the potential of organic agriculture is far from large enough to feed the world, states FAO.

Generally, products that are grown organically attract higher prices than those grown conventionally, boosting farmers’ incomes. However, the large-scale investments involved in this method of agriculture are often beyond the reach of most poor farmers in developing countries.

Mr. Diouf noted that careful use of chemical inputs, especially fertilizers, could help significantly boost food production in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the soil suffers from low fertility and needs added nutrients.

“However, chemical inputs must be used with care,” he cautioned. “You have to choose the right inputs, right amounts, and apply them in the right way and at the right time.”

The Director-General stressed that there is no one solution to feeding the world’s hungry and poor, noting that ensuring present and future food security will require increased public and private investments, the right policies and technologies, knowledge and capacity building, grounded in sound ecosystem management.

Ensuring the world’s future food supply will be the focus of a high-level meeting hosted by FAO next year entitled “Feeding the World in 2050.”

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