Less hunger through more ecology: Feeding the world with organic farming
Can the world be fed in the long run? This question has been posed at regular intervals ever since Malthus published his theory of population 200 years ago. Drastic rises in food prices since the beginning of the 21st century, coupled with an increase in the number of hungry in the world to close to one billion people at present have renewed the pertinence of this question.
At the same time, environmental issues in agriculture are increasingly at the forefront of the public debate. This concerns climate change mitigation, the preservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of water resources and the protection of cultural landscapes with their various ecosystem services such as drinking water, clean air, and recreation space. Food security can therefore no longer be viewed as an isolated issue these days but as part of a multi-dimensional target function of multifunctional agriculture, which, in addition to producing food, must also satisfy numerous ecological and social tasks.
With regard to food security, there would be sufficient food in the world to feed the global population today. The vast majority of the hungry are either too poor to afford food or do not avail of the requisite access to production resources (land, water, seed, etc.) to feed themselves and their families through self-sufficient means. The problem is frequently aggravated by misguided agricultural policies or even wars and conflicts.
As a consequence, the solutions needed to eliminate hunger, malnutrition or undernourishment are highly complex. There is a pronounced need for distributive justice when accessing vital means of production such as land, water and seed; there is also an urgent need for the improved utilisation of scarce resources including the avoidance of post-harvest losses, while, among the poorer classes of the population, long-term income security is required. Moreover, a political framework must be established, in both agricultural and economic policy – and equally in trade and investment policy – which empowers small-scale farming systems and does not lead to a softening of the income situation and, by the same token, a reduction in food security among poor populations.
That said, a mere growth in production does not bring the desired effects. Nevertheless, an increase in food production is highly important. More than ever before it has to be asked how this can be achieved on a sustained basis – given the limited amount of natural resources (land and water), the rising prices of crude oil and the challenges posed by climate change. How can food be secured for those suffering from hunger today, and for the nine billion forecast for 2050?
There is mounting evidence that agriculture must be fundamentally realigned in order for the following three goals to be achieved collectively: food security, adaptation to climate change, and preservation of natural resources. Today, very few people dispute that the ecologisation of agriculture is a core principle for this realignment. Organic agriculture has already provided significant impetus, and it can also be viewed as the driving force behind a renewal of agriculture in the future.