With concerns mounting about the great strain that conventional farming methods place on natural resources and the dangers it poses on human health and the environment, conventional agriculture has been identified as one of the greatest contributors to global warming and is also said to be one of the greatest consumers of water globally (you can read more about the dangers of conventional agriculture here). It has therefore become fiercely urgent for us to proffer better alternatives that will drastically reduce the impacts of conventional agriculture on the ecosystem and halt our plunge into social and environmental destruction.
The better and more sustainable alternative is organic farming. For more than two decades now, scientists and career academics have been digging deep about the prospects of organic farming and have established that farming organically will make our environment greener, our ecosystem safer and our lifespan longer.
Organic farming by definition is the practice of agriculture without the use of artificial synthesis or chemicals in the production of food; from site selection, land preparation, seed selection, planting, pest control, fertilisation, harvesting, and transportation. Organic agriculture combines tradition, science, and innovation to conserve biodiversity and improve human health.
Principles of Organic Agriculture
According to the Nigerian Organic Agriculture Network (NOAN), organic agriculture is built on the four sacrosanct pillars of; health, care, ecology, and fairness. The principle of health insists that organic agriculture must sustain the health of people, animals and the ecosystem while the principle of care explains the need for us to practice agriculture in a manner that jealously protects the health and environmental well-being of current and future generations.
One of these principles also emphasises the need for those working across the organic agriculture value chain to promote fairness in dealing with people (farm owners, farm employees, suppliers, transporters, and others), plants, animals and the environment. The last on the list of principles is the principle of ecology which encourages working with, emulating and helping to sustain living ecological systems and cycles.
These four basic guiding principles of organic agriculture show that farming goes beyond sowing and reaping plants. It projects the fact that farming organic is about improving lives, nurturing relationships and sustaining the environment.
A plethora of findings, corroborated by research conducted by reputable bodies like UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Public Health Laboratories Service (PHLS) highlight the numerous benefits of organic produce over conventional produce. First, unlike conventional agricultural produce that contain excess pesticide and nitrate content, organic products have been certified to contain very minimal pesticide and nitrate content. For example, the Public Health Laboratories Service in one of its surveys tested over 3,000 ready-to-eat organic vegetables and no evidence was found of dangerous substances that might endanger human health. Besides, organic products have been found to taste better and provide higher nutritional value than conventional farm products.
In the same vein, it has been established that organic agriculture will do a better job at conserving our environment than conventional agriculture. Organic no-till method of agriculture, which “is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage” reduces soil erosion and conserves the soil as it does away with the use of heavy machinery and herbicides for land clearing and weed control. Mulching, crop rotation and planting of cover crops, are techniques deployed by organic farmers.
Moreover, at the heart of organic agriculture is the circular economy principle, a branch of sustainability which promotes the reduction, reuse and recycling of finite and infinite materials in the course of production.
Despite the numerous human and environmental benefits that organic agriculture promises, it continues to receive countless criticisms from many quarters. One of such criticisms is that organic agriculture produces lower yield than the conventional style and therefore will not be able to sustain the ever-increasing human population. While it is established that organic agriculture gives 20 percent less yield than conventional agriculture, further research has revealed that this claim might not be true in its entirety as a report published by The Royal Society claim that they found some “evidence of bias in the meta-dataset toward studies reporting higher conventional yields”. In fact, it is our collective efforts towards curbing food waste to the barest minimum and not conventional agriculture that will ensure global food security.
Another criticism of organic agriculture is that it organic food contains dangerous bacteria such as E. Coli and therefore increases the risk of food poisoning because organic farming makes use of animal manure in the production process. This argument falls flat because organic agriculture is highly regulated by reputable regulatory bodies around the world and these bodies have set high standards for the use of manure in organic farming. The established regulation on manure use in organic agriculture states that any farm produce that makes use of manure which has not been composted or was not applied at least 90 days before harvest is unfit to be tagged organic.
One other criticism against organic food is that its growth is slower than inorganic. While this is true, it is because the growth of organic produce is not forcefully influenced and therefore contains more nutrients and antioxidants than produce from conventional agriculture.
From all indications, it is now crystal clear that the adoption of organic practices is a sustainable alternative to the present conventional method of farming which is driving us to destruction with tremendous alacrity.
- Criticisms and Misconceptions about Organic Agriculture: The Counter Arguments. International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), 2008.
- Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone? The Guardian. John Reganold, 2016.
- Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world. The Conversation. David R. Montgomery, 2017.
- Is organic farming sustainable? International Plant Nutrition Institute. Dr Tom Bruulsema. 2002.