Research Press Release

Sustainability: Can organic farming feed the world?

Nature Communications

November 15, 2017

Conversion to organic agriculture may have the potential to meet global food demands and do so sustainably, but only if food waste and meat production are reduced, a new article in Nature Communications suggests. This finding is based on model simulations; such changes in the real world may produce varying results according to regional differences in the uptake and economic practicalities of organic practices.

Organic agriculture is considered more environmentally friendly than traditional farming methods, but may not meet human food needs without converting new land to agriculture. To assess the potential viability of organic agriculture to feed the world, Adrian Muller and colleagues ran simulations for a 2050 global population of nine billion people and various climate change scenarios. Their model predicts that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture would require 16-33% more land to meet global food needs. Achieving 100% conversion without increasing land conversion would need a 50% reduction in food wastage and stopping production of animal feed on land that may be used to grow food for humans. In this scenario, the amount of dietary protein coming from animals drops from 38% to 11%.

Rather than simply focusing on production, sustainable food systems need to address waste, interdependencies between crops, grass and livestock, and the produce consumed by humans, the authors conclude.


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