Organic food and farming are part of the solution to many of today’s challenges – foremost the climate and biodiversity crises. The organic principles of health, ecology, fairness and care apply to people, all living beings and the planet’s ecosystem.
A system in crisis
More than 800 million people are going hungry and about 2 billion are malnourished. About 30% of the global adult population is overweight or obese, and around 30% of food produced worldwide is lost or wasted.
Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history. Up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to 515 billion EUR (577 billion USD) in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss.
A report of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization on the state of biodiversity states that, of the thousands of plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 contribute substantially to global food output and only nine account for 66% of total crop production.
Climate change threatens our ability to ensure global food security, eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activity and livestock are the cause of climate change, leading to a dangerous rise of global temperatures. Climate change has both direct and indirect effects on agricultural productivity including changing rainfall patterns, drought, flooding and the geographical redistribution of pests and diseases.
Unsustainable agriculture is part of the problem
Unsustainable and industrial agriculture is the largest driver of biodiversity and habitat loss, and it contributes to climate change, contaminating soils and water bodies, treating workers unfairly, threatening rural livelihoods, as well as food and nutrition security.
Over 40% of insect species are at risk of extinction over the next few decades, mainly driven by habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture, in particular, the use of pesticides, as well as other chemical pollutants, invasive species, and climate change [Source: Sánchez-Bayoa, F. and Wyckhuys, K.A.G. (2019) Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers; Biological Conservation]. A study published in 2017, that measured total insect biomass deployed in 63 nature protection areas in Germany estimated a decline of 76% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study.
10% of greenhouse gas emissions directly come from agriculture at the global and EU level [Source: EEA (2017): ‘National emissions reported to the UNFCCC and to the EU Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Mechanism’]. 50% of the EU’s agriculture emissions are methane from ruminants. 10% can be attributed to manure management and 40% are nitrous oxide emissions from synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers used to grow food [Source: IFOAM EU (2016): ‘Organic farming, climate change mitigation and beyond: Reducing the environmental impacts of EU agriculture’].
But the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed that our food systems are estimated to cause up to 29% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. In reality, emissions from agriculture are indeed higher when indirect emissions are taken into account. Industrial animal production relies heavily on imports from feed grown outside Europe, which contributes to deforestation. The production of synthetic fertilisers also emits considerable amounts of greenhouse gases.
Farmers often bear the consequences of our unsustainable economies and lifestyles. They are some of the world’s poorest and most food insecure people, most severely hit by climate change.
Organic food and farming are part of the solution
Organic farming can reduce emissions as it builds on reduced inputs, closed nutrient cycles and fertile soils. It provides many animal welfare and environmental benefits for soils, water and biodiversity. Feeding animals on well-managed grasslands also contributes to putting carbon back in the soils.
All the environmental impacts from agriculture should be reduced. The solution is partly in agriculture. Done right, agriculture based on the principles of organic agriculture and agroecological practices can be part of the solution to transition to sustainable food systems and climate resilience.
This should go hand in hand with behavioural changes: eating sustainably, reducing food water, choosing quality over quantity and a transformation of agriculture to reduce its environmental impact.
Policies play a major part in transforming food and farming. Have a look at ‘what we do’ to find out which policies are important in the EU and how IFOAM Organics Europe contributes to these.
This page is an adaptation of IFOAM – Organics International’s ‘Why organic’ page. Check out their website for the global picture!