Organic can feed the world according to German agriculturalist – Farming Online
Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, the head of Germany’s Association for Organic Food (BÖLW), has released a book which argues that organic agriculture can feed the world. Zu Löwenstein’s book, Food Crash – We will Subsist Organically or Not at all, has met with a mixed reception, as some in Germany remain unconvinced.
Zu Löwenstein’s book makes the case for pesticide-free farming which eschews chemical fertilizers and genetically engineered crops, stating this is the only viable way to feed the world in the long-term, due to the unacceptable ecological costs and reliance on finite resources of conventional farming. In the book he also disputes the oft-cited claim that organic production is insufficient to meet the challenges of feeding large populations.
The book’s release comes at a time when debate over the future of farming is rife. Organisations including the UN’s food and Agriculture Agency (FAO) and Environment Programme (UNEP) have both issued statements and research this year which show a large level of support for agroecology and increased emphasis on farming systems which work with nature and involve lower water use and better soil management.
Agriculturalist and former development worker zu Löwenstein maintains organic systems are more robust and resilient and, as such, in areas which are less developed, organic farming is often more productive than conventional methods; he cites an FAO study conducted in Ethiopia, which revealed farms using natural fertilizers had 40 percent higher yields than those using chemical fertilisers. The Ethiopian project relied on a combination of sharing local skills and scientific research for its success.
Speaking at a book launch in Berlin, Herr Löwenstein said, “The fact is that organic farming only produces significantly lower yields than conventional farming in our high-intensity farms in the West – mainly in central Europe.”
However, although zu Löwenstein’s ideas have a large amount of support, German international broadcaster Deutsch Welle today revealed that many disagree with his arguments. The broadcaster reported that, German Development Minister Dirk Niebel, of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), objected to the book’s claims at the launch in Berlin.
He said, “Organic farming alone will not solve the problem of world hunger; at the moment, organic farming is often too expensive and partly too inefficient.” Niebel continued, “I think the ideological fights between proponents of organic farming and those of agro-industrial farming are outdated.”
Calls for increase in research money
While most agriculturalists will argue elements of both organic and conventional agriculture need to be employed in order to meet the combined challenges of peak oil, a rising global population and climate change, groups in the UK have called for more research funding into agroecology, which they feel has suffered unduly harshly in the cuts.
In July, campaign groups reacted strongly to Rothamsted Research’s decision to close three major departments central to their agroecological research base. On esuch group, GM Freeze, which represents the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth and Elm Farm organic research Centre, described the decision as “swimming against the tide of scientific opinion across the world.”
UK’s leading grower says future remains bright for organic
Nevertheless, Andrew Burgess, Director of Agriculture at Produce World, the UK’s largest organic vegetable grower, this week said he remains positive about the future of organics. Claiming the future looked bright for sustainable farming techniques, he said, "As the largest grower of organic vegetables in the UK, we are in an ideal position to gauge what is currently happening in the sector, and what is likely to happen in the future. Without a doubt organics have been under pressure since 2008, and we have seen sales volumes decrease in potatoes and brassicas.
“However, organic has a significant advantage over conventional methods of growing as it has not experienced the same level of increased costs. Because we don’t use herbicides, pesticides or oil-based fertilisers, our input costs haven’t had the same inflationary pressures.”
Mr Burgess said he believes the price difference between organic and conventional produce will shrink as input costs rise and that this will result in an increase in uptake. He said, “After all, if you have the choice and there is little difference in price why wouldn’t you go organic.”
In an effort to promote organic principles, non-profit industry organisation the Organic Trade Board has launched the ‘Why I Love Organic’ campaign and the Soil Association has designated this month ‘Organic September.’
Humphrey Feeds’ Comment: It is not often you hear of such a claim, but I will happily take this on the basis that it is positive about organic, and its potential.