Organic farming

Is agriculture in crisis when organic farming could feed 9 billion people in 2050?

They say agriculture is in crisis. It is dying. However, and more particularly in France, agriculture has assets because it has several facets. Some, in fact, do not resist the changes in scale of the economic rules of the game that are imposed on them and are slowly dying, while others, which rely on new forms of agriculture, on innovative methods, are winners. A recent report has just confirmed that by converting massively to organic farming, farmers could sustainably, healthily and profitably feed all humanity on this planet. Agriculture is not lost and, in France, the performance of those who are betting on innovation and value already make this sector a major pole of excellence. surplus in our balance of trade.
Ahile the stands at the agriculture show were devastated by angry farmers, the President of the Republic heckled, and roadblocks all over the western regions, although they bear witness to a deep crisis, particularly that of livestock farmers, they must not obscure the real performance of agriculture and the challenges it may be able to overcome. To achieve this, French agriculture must change its model in depth, and adopt the dynamics of those who win because they have chosen to produce less in order to produce better, to bet on value rather than mass production, who have opted for organic farming and short circuits. These are not in crisis and prove that a return on investment is possible.  

Adopting new models

A major study was published in the scientific journal Nature Plants early February. It is signed by two American agronomists, John Reganold and Jonathan Wachter, who have compiled about 100 research studies comparing organic to conventional agriculture. Their conclusion is clear: " Based on current evidence, we argue that although organic farming systems produce lower yields than conventional agriculture, they are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly, and deliver equally or more nutritious food with less or no pesticide residues. ".
Thus, at a time when farmers have been pushed for years to produce more, to adopt intensive production methods, to get lost in unequal battles with their industrial distribution channels, this study argues that other models could be considered profitably.
And it's urgent. Indeed, with a boiling dairy sector, a pork crisis, falling producer prices and the price war led by the major distributors, farmers are going through a deep crisis because many of them are no longer making a living from their work. The public authorities may well be launching major plans costing millions of euros, but nothing seems to be happening. The situation seems catastrophic and yet there are avenues of optimism and hope that are developing every day.
More and more farmers are realizing that the paths they have been asked to go down are dead ends. The injunction to feed an ever-growing population has justified the use of practices that are increasingly controversial if not criminal. In an op-ed published on February 28 by Libérationthe two authors, Gilles Fumey, geographer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and Olivier Assouly, philosopher and food specialist, cry out in anger: "I'm not going to be able to do anything about it, but I'm going to do something about it. Now that part of the peasant profession is threatened with violent death, the question of responsibility will arise. Like at Orange, where it took dozens of suicides to change strategy. Who can pretend that in the name of France's competitiveness and a gravelly liberalization of people and regions, the FNSEA's recommendations to "farmers" to expand their farms, to confront the markets with "more competitive" tools, to increase their investments have not been a push to crime? Worse, an unforgivable mistake. At a time when alarm bells were ringing on all sides about this productionist model with its rapid pace of change, it was a mistake that was unforgivable.. »

A brutal realization

Also, a fundamental movement seems to be taking off. Like some kind of brutal awareness. An awareness that expresses itself on factors that are not only economic. A serious suspicion has taken hold of agricultural production methods. Consumers and farmers alike are wondering about the long-term effects of cocktails made up of agrochemical residues (pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, germination inhibitors and plant growth regulators) found in our food. What about the use, justified by the optimization of production costs, of excessive quantities of antibiotics in a concentrated food system (half of the antibiotics sold are intended for farm animals)? How can we consider the responsibility for increasing the likelihood of the emergence of multi-resistant bacteria to antibiotics and thus making the infectious threat unmanageable?

READ UP : Bacteria are becoming increasingly tough and resistant to antibiotics.

It is therefore not surprising that Gilles Fumey and Olivier Assouly consider in their column that " More and more farmers who want to believe in their future are risking, often successfully, in alternative, less anonymous, dissident paths, using shorter or local channels. In addition to giving economic value to the work of farmers and promoting unique know-how, public opinion is showing recognition and solidarity in these ways. ".

Organic, an answer to the crisis?

More and more farmers are abandoning pesticides in favour of organic farming. « A promising sector and a response to the agricultural crisis? "Wonders Expansion. A movement that seems to be taking hold in the long term, according to the Organic Agency, figures The sector is attracting more farmers and breeders every year. The agricultural area under organic farming has jumped by 17% in one year to reach 1.3 million hectares. This represents only 6.5 % of French farms, but the dynamic seems to be underway.
Innovations of all kinds (robots, drones, agro-ecological techniques, etc.) are multiplying to lead farmers towards less aggressive practices against the environment and food safety.

READ UP : INRA: 10 issues that will revolutionize agriculture and Organic agriculture: robots to put an end to herbicides?

On the consumer side, a strong trend is underway and demand is also exploding. According to a study by CSA65 % of the French consumed organic food on a regular basis last year. That's twice as much as fifteen years ago. « The organic sector continues to grow and meets consumer expectations. ", note the experts who speak of " unprecedented levels reached "in terms of purchases. It is estimated that in France, this market grew by 10% over one year, to reach " a record figure of 5.5 billion euros ".

The question of performance will no longer be an issue

The authors of the study published by Nature Plants The results demonstrate the classic criticism, the weak point always highlighted against organic farming, namely the question of yields. For scientists, the yield gap between organic and conventional agriculture can be reduced to 9 % with polyculture, where estimates were rather in the order of 20 % in 2012. Clearly, organic farming, if the means are put into it, could have yields equal to or even higher than those of conventional agriculture. This conclusion corroborates that of another major study published in 2014 by Claire Kremen, professor of environmental sciences and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute at the University of California. According to this academic "Increased investment in agro-ecological research could improve the productivity of sustainable agriculture, which could reach or even surpass that of traditional agriculture. "
For researchers, this yield issue is an argument against organic that will be worthless in a few years. They point out, however, that the value of organic farming can be measured by other equally telling parameters. They note that, as a result of climate change, we are moving towards a world that will be dominated by large periods and areas of drought. In this respect, organic agriculture is far ahead of conventional crops. By being more resilient to severe droughts, organic farming allows farmers to achieve stable yields and thus project themselves into the future despite extreme weather conditions.

Profitability is not a decoy

The study also puts forward an economic argument that should not leave farmers indifferent: according to the researchers, organic farmers generate higher margins. On average, they sell their products for 32 % more, giving them an income 22 % higher than that received in conventional farming. The Expansion further notes: " Today, conventional milk is traded at around 270 euros per tonne. Organic milk, on the other hand, costs between 400 and 450 euros. CQFD. »
Moreover, as the journalist points out Pierre ThouverezIf the negative externalities of conventional agriculture (e.g. pollution by chemical pesticides) and the positive externalities of organic farming (e.g. increased biodiversity) were taken into account in the price of production, the competitiveness of organic farming would be significantly improved. For example, one study estimated that switching to organic 100% production in Great Britain would reduce the external costs of agriculture by 75 %, from 1.96 billion euros per year to 498 million euros.
It is now accepted that organic farming has a lower environmental impact; this benefit can be measured economically. « For example, such comprehensive studies have found that organic farming systems always have soils with higher carbon content, better soil quality and less soil erosion. "the researchers point out. In addition, says Matthieu Combe of the journal Natura-sciencesOrganic farms generally have a greater biodiversity of plants, insects, animals, microbes and genetic diversity in general, as well as a greater variety of landscapes. This biodiversity increases the services provided by nature, such as pollination.
Organic farming has other environmental benefits: it does not contribute to water pollution from chemical pesticides and farms are generally more energy efficient. It also releases less nitrates and phosphorus and fewer greenhouse gases per hectare.

To live better

Finally, the study highlights arguments for which farmers should not remain indifferent: their well-being. Indeed, organic farming reduces the exposure of farm workers to chemical pesticides, which is important for their health. Moreover, it allows for better social interactions between farmers and consumers, to whom it offers products that are reputed to be of better quality. Finally, it leads to a higher employment rate and better cooperation between farmers.
The authors conclude that organic should, in the future, take a greater share in agricultural production alongside other environmentally friendly alternatives, such as agroforestry or integrated agriculture. Organic agriculture could feed the 9 to 10 billion people living on this planet in 2050. To achieve this, we will have to move away from the yield model and focus on more local production, which encourages people to avoid wastage and multiplies the solutions for access and distribution of production. Could we fear or hope for forms of production that are more local, that encourage the avoidance of waste and that multiply the solutions for access and distribution of production?uberization of agriculture ?
This is a change in mentality that this study calls for. It is a change that could be required to reduce one of the most glaring inequalities in our world: almost 2 billion people are overweight, while another 2 billion do not have enough to eat.
Elsewhere, as in India for example, the organic movement has already established itself as an exclusive and daily practice. The state of Sikkim (Himalayas) has thus become the first region where agriculture is exclusively organic. Beyond the symbol, the country is on the way to becoming an essential producer of organic products. Could this be India's second "green revolution"? asks the agency. wikiagri. This regional dynamic reflects an offensive national orientation. In 2014, India produced 1.24 million tons of organic products: basmati rice, spices, dried fruits, honey, tea, cereals, cotton (the country would supply 74% of the world's organic cotton) ... The domestic market is gradually growing, as are exports: Indians have exported 135 different organic products in the world for a total of 403 million US $. Europe accounts for half of the volumes, followed by Canada, the United States and Asia. A virtuous movement which means that, today, Indian standards in organic agriculture are recognized by the European Union, Switzerland and the United States. The examples to follow are multiplying all over the planet. A dynamic has been launched. French agriculture has no right to take the wrong direction in this changing world.

UPDATE IN UP' [Mar 1, 2016] : In Normandy, farmers are rushing towards organic farming.


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