One of the most common criticisms of organic agriculture is that it is not as productive as industrial/chemical agriculture. We are told that “we can’t feed 8 billion people with organic farming!“. Furthermore, it is argued that switching to organic agriculture would be even more destructive of the environment, since the lower productivity would require using even more land (causing more deforestation, destroyed habitat, etc.).
But this criticism is incorrect in several respects. Not only can organic farming feed the world, but it is the only way to do so cheaply and sustainably.
Organic farming is more productive and uses less land/resources than chemical agriculture
The idea that organic agriculture is not productive enough to feed everyone is a myth promoted by agribusiness corporations and chemical manufacturers. It is true that some studies have shown that, on a short term basis, industrial/chemical agriculture can be slightly more productive than organic agriculture (about 8-15% more), although many studies have shown that organic agriculture is actually more productive per acre.
But even if you accept the claims of slightly lower yields, these comparisons tend to look at productivity only in terms of pounds of food produced per acre. What they do not look at is efficiency, in terms of pounds of food per gallon of water used, how much energy is required to produce a given amount of food, etc. Organic agriculture uses far less resources to produce the same amount of food as industrial agricultural systems, and produces far less toxic waste and environmental destruction in the process. The fact that industrial agriculture shills are actually trying to convince people that organic agriculture is a threat to the environment is laughable – or at least it would be if people weren’t falling for it.
If you are going to compare land use between different agricultural methods, then you have to take into account the destruction of land by industrial/chemical agriculture. Industrial agriculture consumes arable land whereas organic agriculture utilizes it sustainably and maintains its health. Yes, the research has shown that organic farms require about 12 acres to produce the same amount of food as 10 acres of industrial farms. However, industrial agriculture will quickly destroy this 10 acres by poisoning the soil and causing massive erosion, which means that new land has to be colonized and farmed. Thus in the long term, industrial agriculture requires much more land than organic systems, which do not destroy the land they use.
The reality is that organic agriculture is far more productive and efficient than industrial farming when looked at on a long term basis, and when all ecological effects are taken into account. This is why many researchers and organizations (such as the UN) are starting to acknowledge that organic agriculture is the only way that we can feed the world’s population without destroying the Earth.
The real cause of hunger is not lack of productivity – it’s a problem of distribution
But really, all of this discussion about productivity kind of misses the point, because it implies that the reason people don’t have enough to eat is that we’re not producing enough food. In reality, farmers produce more than 1.5 times the amount of food needed to feed every person on the planet.
The reason that millions of people die of starvation every year is because they cannot afford to purchase the food that is already produced. Thanks to the capitalist system, people starve to death while they are surrounded by food. Large amounts of farmland that could be used to grow food are instead being used to make biofuels such as ethanol, and to grow feed for livestock in industrial feedlot operations. In wealthy nations like the United States, more than 40% of the food supply is wasted each year.
What this means is that even if you accept the highest figures (15-20%) for differences in productivity between organic and industrial agriculture, you could still feed everyone with organic agriculture, using less land than we are using now for industrial agriculture.
Organic farming is more accessible to small farmers, and especially poor farmers
Industrial/chemical agriculture is a system of farming that has been developed with one goal in mind: the enrichment (by any means necessary) of the ruling capitalist elite who own the land, the agro-chemical corporations, the agricultural machinery factories, the junk food distribution networks, and supermarket chains. The goal is not to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food, nor to preserve/improve the ecological health of the land for future generations. The equipment and chemical inputs are expensive and technologically complex, and the vast majority of the world’s population does not have access to them.
Compared to industrial agriculture, organic agriculture is more accessible for people who do not have access to the capital to purchase industrial machinery, chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, GMO seed, etc. Organic farming is much more suitable for small-scale, local farming since it requires only hand tools and resources such as manure and cover crops that can be generated on the farmland itself (instead of being purchased and imported from the outside). In heavily exploited areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the world’s hungry people live, studies have found small-scale, organic agriculture to be far more productive than industrial agriculture (with yields that were more than 90% higher). This is also true for other economically disadvantaged areas with similar histories of colonization and exploitation.
We need to begin a rapid transition to 100% organic agriculture
Up until a few decades ago, all agriculture was organic. And now, as more and more research is demonstrating the harmful health and ecological effects of industrial/chemical agriculture, people are beginning to realize that organic methods are preferable.
We literally do not need any industrial/chemical agriculture to feed the world. A transition to 100% organic agriculture would be extremely simple, cheap, and ecologically sound and would actually ensure