Recently, a friend of mine who is trying to transition a farm to organic asked me with a bit of frustration why people keep insisting that "you can't feed the world with organic."
My response was that it's important for him to realize that "We Need to Feed the World" is one of GMO makers' most brilliant marketing campaigns. But that's just what it is, a marketing campaign.
But the truth--with a multitude of studies to back it up--is that in the long run, modern regenerative organic farming is the ONLY thing that can truly feed the world.
And here is why:
1. Modern organic farming improves the soil and leaves it better over time, including the its ability to store carbon. Chemical farming destroys the soil, ultimately leaving it un-farmable (for example, in China one fifth of agricultural land is already poisoned beyond use).
We need healthy soil to grow crops, and therefore, we need to farm organically to keep our soil healthy so that we're not stuck with an earth covered in un-farmable land.
2. Modern organic farming has been proved to be as productive as chemical farming overall, and even more productive in times of drought and flood. And as a recent analysis by researchers at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies makes clear, we can expect many more droughts in our future. California is going into its fourth year of drought, and some experts predict the state may only have one year of water left. Read that sentence again.
To top it off, a study recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, asserts that "with global food needs predicted to greatly increase in the next 50 years, it's critical to look more closely at organic farming, because aside from the environmental impacts of industrial agriculture, the ability of synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields has been declining." So not only are chemical-farming practices harming our environment and our health, but they're also beginning to lose their effectiveness.
We need farming practices that can withstand droughts and floods, and we need farms that don't rely on harmful chemicals. Therefore, we need organic farming practices to produce stable, productive yields to be able to feed the world now and throughout the future.
3. We are actually already growing too much food (which is just leading to obesity and food waste). Most of the corn and soy grown in America isn't even grown as food for people; it's used as feed for animals, with a significant portion of the crops going to fuel and high-fructose corn syrup.
We don't need to plant GMO seeds and spray them with pounds of chemicals to grow massive amounts of food (much of which doesn't even get eaten). Instead, we should be working on creating more even distribution efforts with organic farming practices so that we can use the food we grow to actually feed the world.
4. Famines are usually not caused by farming and food shortages, but by poverty and economic instability. Amartya Sen won a Nobel Prize for this discovery. He explains it best in his opening statements from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization Conference: "If the world wants to conquer hunger, it needs to tackle all the causes of hunger simultaneously, particularly poverty, and not just concentrate on producing more food."
5. Many of the chemicals used in chemical agriculture are associated with serious health problems, including cancer. In fact, a major report just released by the World Health Organization labeled the world's most widely used herbicide, glyphosate, as a "probable" human carcinogen. Pesticides have also been associated with autism, diabetes, obesity, Parkinson's disease, and allergies.
In my book, Organic Manifesto, all these claims are backed up by hundreds of reliable, footnoted scientific sources. Since the book's publication in 2009, numerous additional studies have come out further supporting these concerns.
And unlike chemical agriculture, organic agriculture uses no pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides, yet it has been proven to be just as productive. Therefore, it's safe to say that organic farming is the healthier, safer way to grow our food.
6. Modern organic farming requires intelligence and responsiveness and is in no way technologically averse. It's simply applying intelligence in harmony and collaboration with nature rather than in opposition to it.
And through this harmony we can feed the world, safely, intelligently, and for countless generations to come.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com