THE VINE JULY 1, 2008
There’s a heated debate at The Economist over this charticle
that claims organic farming is bad for the poor.
According to the author’s fuzzy logic, organic farming
produces fewer crops yields than conventional methods, thus demanding that more
farmland be put under cultivation. As the share of farmland devoted to
high-premium organic crops increases--the rise is most notable in Europe--global
food prices will be pushed up, and the world’s poorest will bear the brunt of
the suffering, the argument goes.
There are many reasons why this logic is flawed. First
of all, it’s still highly contested as to whether organic farming actually
produces less food. Recent studies at the University of
Michigan and Cornell
show the contrary: organic farming yields equal or greater yields, in addition
to environmental benefits that help making farming of any sort more sustainable
in the long run.
Secondly, organic farming serves a niche market in the U.S. and Europe.
The cabal of organic argula-eaters over here isn’t responsible for the
skyrocketing cost of rice in Manila;
food prices have escalated
across the board, for reasons that have little to do with the rise of organics
in the world’s richest grocery aisles. The countries that have made the biggest
switch to organic farming--Switzerland,
Austria, Finland, and Denmark-- have never fed the
world’s poor, and they aren’t suddenly diminishing the global supply of cheap crops
by going organic.
If anything, the rise of organic farming in the
industrialized world can help point us to ways to increase global food
production, push down prices, and feed poor nations. It’s a model for a more
energy-efficient, less toxic form of farming that can, at its best, improve
crop yields for farmers in
poor countries as well as rich ones. At the same time, it’s only one among
many alternative farming practices that a food-strapped country should be
considering. As the U.S. News & World Report recently
explained, fixing the current food crisis doesn’t necessarily mean that
farming will go greener: genetically-modified crops will also have a place at