Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Organic agriculture and the global food supply

  • Catherine Badgley (a1), Jeremy Moghtader (a2) (a3), Eileen Quintero (a2), Emily Zakem (a4), M. Jahi Chappell (a5), Katia Avilés-Vázquez (a2), Andrea Samulon (a2) and Ivette Perfecto (a2)...
Abstract
Abstract

The principal objections to the proposition that organic agriculture can contribute significantly to the global food supply are low yields and insufficient quantities of organically acceptable fertilizers. We evaluated the universality of both claims. For the first claim, we compared yields of organic versus conventional or low-intensive food production for a global dataset of 293 examples and estimated the average yield ratio (organic:non-organic) of different food categories for the developed and the developing world. For most food categories, the average yield ratio was slightly <1.0 for studies in the developed world and >1.0 for studies in the developing world. With the average yield ratios, we modeled the global food supply that could be grown organically on the current agricultural land base. Model estimates indicate that organic methods could produce enough food on a global per capita basis to sustain the current human population, and potentially an even larger population, without increasing the agricultural land base. We also evaluated the amount of nitrogen potentially available from fixation by leguminous cover crops used as fertilizer. Data from temperate and tropical agroecosystems suggest that leguminous cover crops could fix enough nitrogen to replace the amount of synthetic fertilizer currently in use. These results indicate that organic agriculture has the potential to contribute quite substantially to the global food supply, while reducing the detrimental environmental impacts of conventional agriculture. Evaluation and review of this paper have raised important issues about crop rotations under organic versus conventional agriculture and the reliability of grey-literature sources. An ongoing dialogue on these subjects can be found in the Forum editorial of this issue.

Copyright
Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: perfecto@umich.edu
References
Hide All
1 Borlaug N.E. 2000. Ending world hunger: the promise of biotechnology and the threat of antiscience zealotry. Plant Physiology 124:487490.
2 Huang J., Pray C., and Rozelle S. 2002. Enhancing the crops to feed the poor. Nature 418:678684.
3 Trewavas A. 2002. Malthus foiled again and again. Nature 418:668670.
4 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2004. The state of food and agriculture, 2003–2004. Agriculture Series No. 35. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
5 Smil V. 2000. Feeding the World—A Challenge for the 21st Century. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
6 Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. 2004. World population prospects: the 2004 revision and world urbanization prospects: the 2003 revision. Available at Web site: http://esa.un.org/unpp (2 May 2005).
7 National Research Council. 1989. Alternative Agriculture. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
8 Pimentel D., Harvey C., Resosudarmo P., Sinclair K., Kurz D., McNair M., Crist S., Shpritz L., Fitton L., Saffouri R., and Blair R. 1995. Environmental and economic cost of soil erosion and conservation benefits. Science 267:11171123.
9 Pimentel D. 1996. Green revolution agriculture and chemical hazards. The Science of the Total Environment 188 (Suppl. 1):S86S98.
10 Matson P.A., Parton W.J., Power A.G., and Swift M.J. 1997. Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science 277:504509.
11 Tilman D. 1999. Global environmental impacts of agricultural expansion: the need for sustainable and efficient practices. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 96:59956000.
12 Heller M.C. and Keoleian G.A. 2003. Assessing the sustainability of the US food system: a life cycle perspective. Agricultural Systems 76:10071041.
13 Beman J.M., Arrigo K.R., and Matson P.A. 2004. Agricultural runoff fuels large phytoplankton blooms in vulnerable areas of the ocean. Nature 434:211214.
14 Relyea R.A. 2005. The impact of insecticides and herbicides on the biodiversity and productivity of aquatic communities. Ecological Applications 15:618627.
15 Tilman D., Cassman K.G., Matson P.A., Naylor R., and Polasky S. 2002. Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418:671677.
16 Pretty J.N., Morison J.I.L., and Hine R.E. 2003. Reducing food poverty by increasing agricultural sustainability in developing countries. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 95:217234.
17 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DC.
18 Green R.E., Cornell S.J., Scharlemann J.P.W., and Balmford A. 2004. Farming and the fate of wild nature. Science 307:550555.
19 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2003. FAO Statistical Database. Available at Web site: http://faostat.fao.org/faostat/collections?version=ext&hasbulk=0&subset=agriculture (4 December 2003).
20 Oerke E.C., Dehne H.W., Schönbeck F., and Weber A. 1994. Crop Production and Crop Protection. Elsevier, Amsterdam, NL.
21 Flint M.L. 1998. Pests of the Garden and Small Farm. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.
22 Morales H. 2002. Pest management in traditional tropical agroecosystems: Lessons for pest prevention research and extension. Integrated Pest Management Reviews 7:145163.
23 Stanhill G. 1990. The comparative productivity of organic agriculture. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 30:126.
24 Leigh R.A. and Johnson A.E. 1994. Long-Term Experiments in Agricultural and Ecological Sciences. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
25 Pimentel D., Hepperly P., Hanson J., Douds D., and Seidel R. 2005. Environmental, energetic and economic comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. BioScience 55:573582.
26 Giller K.E., McDonagh J.F., and Cadisch G. 1994. Can biological nitrogen fixation sustain agriculture in the tropics? In Syers J.K. and Rimmer D.L. (eds). Soil Science and Sustainable Land Management in the Tropics. CAB International, Wallingford, UK. p. 173191.
27 Scialabba N.El-H. and Hattam C. (eds). 2002. Organic Agriculture, Environment, and Food Security. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
28 Willer H. and Yussefi M. 2001. Organic Agriculture Worldwide 2001: Statistics and Future Prospects. Foundation for Ecology and Agriculture, Stuttgart, Germany.
29 Stark P.B. 2004. SticiGui: statistics tools for internet and classroom instruction with a graphic user interface. Available at Web site: http://stat-www.berkeley.edu/users/stark/SticiGui/index.htm (8 August 2004).
30 Brady N.C. and Weil R.R. 2002. The Nature and Properties of Soils. 13th ed. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.
31 United States Geological Survey. 2003. Mineral Commodity Summaries 2003. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
32 Lampkin N. 1994. Organic Farming. Farming Press, Ipswich, UK.
33 Boddey R.M., de Moraes J.C., Alves B.J.R., and Urquiaga S. 1997. The contribution of biological nitrogen fixation for sustainable agriculture in the tropics. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 29:787799.
34 Hoyt G.D. and Hargrove W.L. 1986. Legume cover crops for improving crop and soil management in the southern United States. Horticultural Science 21:397402.
35 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 1998. National Agriculture Statistics. Available at Web site: http://www.usda.gov/nass/pubs/agr98/acro98.htm
36 Galloway J.N., Schlesinger W.H., Levy H. II, Michaels A., and Schnoor J.L. 1995. Nitrogen fixation: anthropogenic enhancement—environmental response. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 9(2):235252.
37 Vesterby M. and Krupa K.S. 1997. Major land uses in the United States. Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), USDA Statistical Bulletin No. 973.
38 Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion. 2000. Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 5th ed. Home and Garden Bulletin No. 232. United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.
39 Uphoff N. 2003. Higher yields with fewer external inputs? The system of rice intensification and potential contributions to agricultural sustainability. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 1:3850.
40 Sheehy J.E., Peng S., Dobermann A., Mitchell P.L., Ferrer A., Yang J., Zou Y., Zhong Z., and Huang J. 2004. Fantastic yields in the system of rice intensification: fact or fallacy? Field Crops Research 88:18.
41 Kumar V., Mills D.J., Anderson J.D., and Mattoo A.K. 2004. An alternative agriculture system is defined by a distinct expression profile of select gene transcripts and proteins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 101:1053510540.
42 Kramer A., Doane T., Horwath W., and Kessel C. 2002. Combining fertilizer and organic inputs to synchronize N supply in alternative cropping systems in California. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 91:233243.
43 Sustainable Agriculture Network. 1998. Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 2nd ed. Sustainable Agriculture Network Handbook Series 3, Beltsville, MD.
44 Radke J.K., Liebhardt W.C., Jahnke R.R., and Peters S.E. 1987. Legumes in crop rotations as an internal nitrogen source for corn. In Power J.F. (ed.). Role of Legumes in Conservation Tillage Systems. Soil Conservation Society of America, Ankeny, IA. p. 5657.
45 Dakora F.D. and Keya S.O. 1997. Contribution of legume nitrogen fixation to sustainable agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 29:809817.
46 Sultan K., Gintzburger G., Obaton M., Robin C., Touchane H., and Guckert A. 2001. Growth and nitrogen fixation of annual Medicago–Rhizobium associations during winter in Mediterranean region. European Journal of Agronomy 15:221229.
47 Fahrney K.S., El-Swaify S.A., Lo A.K.F., and Joy R.J. 1987. Maize yields and soil loss with conservation and conventional tillage practices on a tropical Aridisol. In Power J.F. (ed.). Role of Legumes in Conservation Tillage Systems. Soil Conservation Society of America, Ankeny, IA. p. 5051.
48 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 1993. Food and Agriculture Production Yearbook 1992. Statistical Series 112. FAO, Rome, Italy.
49 Vandermeer J.H. 1990. Intercropping. In Carroll C.R., Vandermeer J.H., and Rosset P. (eds). Agroecology. McGraw Hill, NY. p. 481516.
50 Nair P.K.R. 1984. Soil Productivity Aspects of Agroforestry: Science and Practice in Agroforestry. International Council for Research in Agroforestry, Nairobi.
51 Dobereiner J. 1997. Biological nitrogen fixation in the tropics. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 29:771774.
52 Giller K.E. and Wilson K.J. 1991. Nitrogen Fixation in Tropical Cropping Systems. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
53 Honeycutt W.C., Clapham W.M., and Leach S.S. 1994. A functional approach to efficient nitrogen use in crop production. Ecological Modelling 73:5161.
54 Drinkwater L.E., Wagoner P., and Sarrantonio M. 1998. Legume-based cropping systems have reduced carbon and nitrogen losses. Nature 396:262265.
55 Peoples M.B. and Craswell E.T. 1992. Biological nitrogen fixation: investments, expectations and actual contributions to agriculture. Plant and Soil 141:1339.
56 Crews T.E. and Peoples M.B. 2004. Legume versus fertilizer sources of nitrogen: ecological tradeoffs and human needs. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 102:279297.
57 O'Hara G.W., Howieson J.G., and Graham I.P.H. 2002. Nitrogen fixation and agricultural practice. In Leigh G.J. (ed.). Nitrogen Fixation at the Millennium. Elsevier, Amsterdam, NL. p. 391420.
58 Piper J.K. 1998. Growth and seed yield of three perennial grains within monocultures and mixed stands. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 68:111.
59 Rosset P. 1999. The multiple functions and benefits of small farm agriculture in the context of global trade negotiations. Food First Policy Brief no. 4.
60 Pimentel D. 1993. Economics and energetics of organic and conventional farming. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 6:5360.
61 Sorby K. 2002. What is sustainable coffee? Background Paper to the World Bank Agricultural Technology Note 30. Washington, DC.
62 Granatstein D. 2003. Tree fruit production with organic farming methods. Wenatchee (WA) Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University. Available at the Web site: http://organic.rfrec.wsu.edu/OrganicIFP/OrganicFruitProduction/OrganicMgt.PDF (26 April 2003).
63 Lampkin N.H. and Padel S. (eds)1994. The Economics of Organic Farming: An International Perspective. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
64 McDonald A.J., Hobbs P.R., and Riha S.J. 2005. Does the system of rice intensification outperform conventional best management? A synopsis of the empirical record. Field Crops Research 96:3136.
65 Pretty J. and Hine R. 2001. Reducing food poverty with sustainable agriculture: A summary of new evidence. Final Report from the ‘SAFE World’ Research Project, University of Essex. Available at Web site: http://www2.essex.ac.uk/ces/ResearchProgrammes/SAFEWexecsummfinalreport.htm (3 December 2003).
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
  • ISSN: 1742-1705
  • EISSN: 1742-1713
  • URL: /core/journals/renewable-agriculture-and-food-systems
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 176
Total number of PDF views: 608 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 4521 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.