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Agroecology: Organic and Sustainable Farming to Feed the World

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Principles of Organic Agriculture.

Agriculture at a Crossroads, a global 2009 report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). Calls for new farming policies and practices to address hunger, in particular “improving low impact practices such as organic agriculture and providing incentives for the sustainable management of water, livestock, forests, and fisheries.”

Agroecology Research Group, University of California, Principles of Agroecology.

A 2008 United Nations paper found that organic and sustainable farming increased yields on African farms by 116% on average, and as much as 128% in East Africa – while improving soil quality, protecting against droughts, and increasing profits for small farmers.  Commenting to the UK Guardian, one Kenyan farmer stated, “Organic can feed the people in rural areas. It’s sustainable and what we produce now we can go on producing.”

A University of Essex (UK) paper looking at Reducing Food Poverty with Sustainable Agriculture examined more than 200 case studies in 52 countries. In 89 projects that reported reliable data on changes in yields after adopting sustainable practices, the study found yield gains of 50-100% for rainfed crops (with a few cases showing much greater yield gains), and 5-10% for irrigated crops.

A published study, Agronomic and environmental implications of organic farming systems (abstract), noted that “The increasing development of organic production systems and markets illustrates that this represents a valid alternative approach, often in direct opposition to intensive “biotechnology” agriculture.” See more excerpts from the study.

A review of 22 years of farm trials, published in the peer-reviewed journal Bioscience, demonstrated that organic farming produces the same yields of corn and soybeans as does conventional farming, while using 30 percent less energy, less water and no pesticides.  The study also found that in drought years, organic corn yields were 22% higher than conventional fields.

Yield trials in Ohio in 2006 show organic corn yields were 13% greater than the state average (mostly conventional corn).  The report also notes organic corn fetched double the market price of conventional corn.

A peer-reviewed report by researchers from the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University outlines the public health and environmental costs from industrial agriculture and notes benefits of transitioning to sustainable farm systems.

An assessment by University of California agricultural extension specialists concludes that organic and other sustainable farming systems could comprise as much as 60% of all California cropland by 2025, but notes research and support for organic systems lags far behind market demand.

An Organic Center report notes a 2010 study showing that organic farming can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from soil, while GMOs and conventional approaches have little or no climate benefit.

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