Today, less than 5% of the world’s agriculture is organic, or produced without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Dr. Catherine Badgely of the University of Michigan is the author of a well-known 2007 study , which claimed that crop yields from organic agriculture can compete with production from conventional farming practices.
Catherine Badgely: The brief message of our paper was that organics have potential to scale up to feed the entire world’s population today and potentially even larger.
Badgely’s paper has become part of an active debate between advocates of organic and conventional, large-scale farming.
Catherine Badgely: In the past two years, other studies have come out that have essentially reinforced the conclusions that our study came to.
Other studies have disagreed. Badgely, though, pointed to a 2008 UN report that said the spread of organic agriculture could increase food security in Africa. That’s partly because, Badgely said, many poor rural African farmers don’t have access to, or can’t afford, the modern fertilizers used in conventional farming. So, crop yields in parts of African have remained low. Badgely believes that organic farming can help.
Catherine Badgely: They have options for increasing their local productivity, and the well-being of their own local communities.
Badgely’s paper was published in July 2007, and she said the findings have been corroborated in succeeding papers by unrelated researchers.
Catherine Badgely: The potential is especially great in the developing world, where most food is grown by very traditional methods, that are often not taking advantage of the agro-ecological knowledge we use in organic practices.
She said that the function that organics serve in parts of the developing world, like the U.S., is very different from why it is needed in the developing world.
Catherine Badgely: The difference between the developed and developing world is probably more economic than agronomic, in the sense that many people in the developing world are desperate for income and food.
Badgely said agricultural methods alone cannot solve the problem of hunger, or the tricky economic aspects of the food system. But she said social capital is a valuable investment – perhaps even more so than the improved yields and fertilizers of the Green Revolution.
Catherine Badgely: So that’s why I think organic methods will do more for overall sustainability of agricultural systems in the developing world than taking strictly a Green Revolution approach.
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.