How Organic Can Help Achieve Food Security
The power of organic goes way beyond the benefiting our heath, reducing pesticides, and increasing biodiversity. In this Organic September article, we discuss how organic agriculture can improve food security, helping us move towards a more sustainable food future.
For many, organic food simply offers a way to enjoy a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle, avoiding pesticides and guaranteeing the best animal welfare and quality of food, however the power of organic food and farming extends way beyond this.
Organic farming may be key to solving some of the most pressing issues we face as a planet today, such as climate change, water shortages and, what we will be discussing today, food security.
What is Food Security?
Food security is defined by the World Bank as ‘when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’.
This definition is based on 4 dimensions which outline physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, how nutrients from food can be utilised in the body and the stability of all the other 3 dimensions over time. For food security to be achieved all four of these need to be met at the same time.
Image: Food security is defined by 4 dimensions: availability, access, utilisation and stability.
The Challenges Food Security Faces
There are several challenges that we need to face to achieve food security across a range of economic, social and environmental factors.
Today around 795 million people face hunger worldwide and over 2 billion lack the essential micronutrients needed to lead a long and healthy life. This number is aggravated by the increasingly drastic effects of climate change, not only reducing the yield of crops due to unstable growing seasons, but also the nutritional content of produce – impacted by higher levels of CO2. With a rapidly growing population, we are now having to produce more food than ever before, exacerbating our reliance of intensive farming methods and imports.
The Impact of Intensive Farming on Food Security
Whilst it may seem that the easiest way to tackle the food security issue would be to invest more in intensive farming methods, increasing the output of food production as cheaply and quickly as possible, this ideology is part of the wider problem.
Intensive farming methods produce food that is not only nutritionally poor but also extremely detrimental to the environment and our natural resources, and an aggravator of climate change.
Agriculture is the 3rd biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, driven by the reliance of conventional and intensive farms on artificial nitrogen fertilisers, producing harmful emissions and requiring vast amounts of energy to produce. Investing further in intensive farming would thus only intensify the food security problem, with the UN stating in in their 2018 report on the state of food security and nutrition: ‘the cumulative effects of climate change is undermining all dimensions of food security.’
Image: Intensive farming leads to the erosion of valuable soil resources.
Intensive farming also furthers the erosion of valuable soil. Soil is responsible for providing us with 98.8% of our food, as well as performing a vital role in carbon storage, flood mitigation and more.
Increasingly soil is degrading, with at least a third of soil resources worldwide in poor or very poor condition. Soil fertility is impacted by this degradation as it loses vital organic matter, damaging its ability to provide us with food, which spells concern for food security in the future.
How Organic Agriculture Can Help Improve Food Security
So how can we move towards global food security in a sustainable way for the future? This is where organic farming may be key.
Organic farming is the furthest possible farming style from intensive farming and thus the most obvious alternative. Where Intensive and conventional farming fight against nature to produce a yield, organic farming embraces nature and works in harmony with it, reaping the rewards.
With strict policies and standards governing organic certifications through organisations such as the Soil Association, crops and livestock are farmed in a way which minimises environmental impact as much as possible.
Using methods such as planting cover crops, crop rotation, and natural fertilisers like manure and wood chip, organic farming cuts out the use of artificial pesticides and fertilisers resulting in less greenhouse gas emissions and energy intensive production.
Image: Organic agriculture reduces our reliance on pesticides to produce a yield.
These methods also help protect the health of the soil, alongside using rotational grazing, keeping them fertile and capable of producing food for years to come.
The denial of artificial pesticide and fertiliser usage in organic farming also helps protect pollinator species and biodiversity, which in turn, improves yields of crops from organic farms.
Organic is often associated with being a costly and risky farming method, however the opposite is the case.
Due to so much if organic farming utilising natural processes which are already occurring, the initial investment and cost of running an organic farm is much less than an intensive farm which requires extreme amounts of energy and other external inputs to produce a yield. This makes organic farming a much more accessible method of farming for people in lesser economically developed countries.
However organic farming cannot provide all the answers to food security alone.
A Change in Consumption
Moving to a more organic food system to achieve food security would also require a shift in consumption habits across the world, as suggested by Robert Percival, head of policy at the Soil Association “we need an urgent shift in both production and consumption if we’re to avert the worst consequences of climate change, including a shift towards eating less and better meat.”
Achieving food security is just as much about changing our attitude to food, as well as the food systems which produce it and key to this is eating less and better meat.
By collectively choosing to eat meat less often, and when we do, choosing that which has been sustainably farmed, we would reduce the pressure caused by meat production on our global food system and move to a more sustainable model of production and consumption to ensure future food security.
This was proven to be the case in an experiment which modelled 500 food production scenarios to see if we could feed the expected world population by 2050 without expanding our current farmland area. The results showed that “enough food could be produced with lower-yielding organic farming, if people become vegetarians or eat a more plant-based diet with lower meat consumption.”
Image: Eating less but better meat is key to achieving food security.
So, to sum up, global food insecurity is an extremely pressing issue, being aggravated by climate change, our growing population, and our inadequate global food supply chain. By moving towards a future where organic farming is more prevalent and intensive farming is a thing of the past, we could help reduce the environmental impact of farming, keeping soils healthy and our current farmland fertile for years to come, thus increasing the yield of our farmland naturally.
However, this future cannot be realised without a systemic change in the way we consume our food, requiring us to collectively choose to eat less but better meat to reduce pressure on the global food production system for enough land to be available to feed the planet.