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June 15, 2000


Organic farming can 'feed the world' : BBC Science


AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org, http://agbioview.listbot.com

The following are being circulated by the Organic Federation of Australia Inc.

Can you ask if anyone can provide factual rebuttals? I am especially
interested in scientific citations for the insufficiency of organic
sources of nitrogen to feed 6 billion people. I have seen comments
attributed to various people that there is only enough N for 3
billion people, but would like a citation. And can small farms really
be TEN times more efficient than large?

Thanks. Rick
Organic farming can 'feed the world' by BBC Science's Corinne Podger
-September 14, 1999

Organic farming could produce enough food to feed large populations, according
to British scientists at the Festival of Science in Sheffield.

It may be environmentally friendly, but advocates of modern intensive
farming methods say that "going organic" will not produce enough food
to feed large populations.
Lower yields still profitable

But the British team say the lower yields from organic farms can
still be profitable once the savings on chemical additives such as
fertilisers and machinery are taken into account. And they say
organic farming could be viable
even in developing countries if the political climate is favourable.
In developed countries, organic food is increasingly in demand. It is

by many as being healthier, and free from chemical residues from
pesticides and fertilisers.
Although organic farms achieve only 60 to 80% of the yield of high
intensity conventional farms, some of these losses can be offset
against savings on expensive fertilisers and insecticides.
Organic farms economically viable

Could organic crops feed the world?

Most organic farms in countries like Britain and the United States
are still fairly small in size. Dr Liz Stockdale, of the Institute of
Arable Crop Research
in England, believes organic farms could be economically viable on a
much larger
scale, even in developing countries with large populations. "In less
developed countries, countries where the conventional agricultural
systems aren't that intensive to start with, we can see that
conventional systems and organic systems actually can match yields
very closely," she said. Dr Stockdale says this is because
conventional farms in poorer countries tend to use less expensive
machinery and chemicals, putting them more on a par with organic
Growing the right crops

But she says the lower yields of organic farms in any country could be greatly
increased as scientists learn more about controlling insects and
disease without
chemicals, and find the right crops to suit a particular region's
pests and climate.
"One of the main problems isn't getting the total yield, it's getting
yield, yield that consumers are quite happy to buy. And that's because quite a
bit of that crop is damaged by pests or disease, just on the surface
but not affecting the quality for eating, but the way it looks". "So
just improving ways of trapping pests is the one that makes us
money." But Dr Stockdale says farmers can do only so much in
producing enough food to feed the world; governments have a role to
play as well. Conventional farms, she says, often produce too much
food - leading to produce
being grown for human consumption in Western countries frequently being fed to

Until governments tackle the social and political factors involved in
poverty and effective food distribution, she says, millions of people
will continue to
go hungry.


Small Farms More Productive than Large Farms
but Threatened by Trade Agreements

The Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First
and the Transnational Institute Release a New Report:

The Multiple Functions and Benefits
of Small Farm Agriculture

In the Context of Global Trade Negotiations

By Peter Rosset

full text of the report available at:

September 14, 1999

Maastricht, Netherlands -- Small farms are more productive than large
farms, yet their continued existence is threatened by international trade
agreements, according to a major study released today at a United Nations
conference here in Maastricht.*

The Institute for Food and Development Policy, also known as "Food First,"
based in California, USA, and the Transnational Institute, based in The
Netherlands, published the study authored by agricultural development
specialist Dr. Peter Rosset. Challenging the conventional wisdom that small
farms are backward and unproductive, the study shows that small farmers
worldwide produce from 2 to 10 times more per unit area than do larger,
corporate farmers.

"In fact small farms are 'multi-functional' -- more productive, more
efficient, and contribute more to economic development than do large
farms," said Dr. Rosset, Executive Director of the Institute for Food and
Development Policy and the author of the report. Dr. Rosset is an official
delegate to the Maastricht conference, representing the Global Forum on
Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security, based in Brazil.

Communities surrounded by populous small farms have healthier economies
than do communities surrounded by depopulated large, mechanized farms,
according the study. Small farmers also take better care of natural
resources, including reducing soil erosion and conserving biodiversity.
Small farmers are better stewards of natural resources, safeguarding the
future sustainability of agricultural production.

"Despite more than a century of anti-small farmer policies in country after
country, in both industrialized and third world countries," said Dr.
Rosset, "small farmers not only still cling to the soil but continue to be
more productive and more efficient than large, agri-business farming
operations. Small farmers offer the best way to feed the world, and the
only way to effectively conserve soil resources for future generations."

Unfortunately the study shows that today the world's small farmers face
unprecedented threats to their livelihoods, thanks to free trade agreements
negotiated in recent years. "Free trade causes the prices farmers receive
to drop through the floor", said Rosset," driving them into bankruptcy by
the millions." Such low prices mean only the largest can survive, according
to the study.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), to be
negotiated in Seattle, USA, in November, 1999, is the weapon that could
deal the final death blow to the world's small farmers, according to
Rosset. "The U.S. Government negotiators," said Rosset, himself an
American, "have as their goal for Seattle the complete liberalization of
trade in farm products."

Rosset, and the institutes that published his report, are issuing a call to
recognize the true, multiple value of small farms, and to defeat the
American government plans for the AOA. "Small farmers are a key resource
for our very survival into the future," said Mr. Erik Heijmans, of the
Transnational Institute, which co- published the study. "We must oppose
trade agreements which place them in jeopardy."

* "Cultivating Our Futures," the FAO/Netherlands Conference on the
Multifunctional Character of Agriculture and Land, 12-17 September 1999,
Maastricht, The Netherlands. Information at: http://www.fao.org/mfcal

# # #

Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy
398 60th Street
Oakland, California 94618 USA
tel: 510/654-4400 fax: 510/654-4551

Transnational Institute
Paulus Potterstraat 20
1071 DA, Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: 31-20-6626608
Fax: 31-20-6757176

Global Forum on Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security
SGAN 905 Conjunto "B", Parte "A" 70.790-050
Brasilia, DF Brazil
Tel: +55 61 347 4914
Fax: +55 61 347 9002