Can organic feed the planet?


Pat writes further about her investigations into whether organic can feed the planet, and here reflects in a refreshingly honest way on how overwhelmingly complex the question is.  We’d love to hear from any other members or readers who have a point of view on this or have any of their own investigations to share.  Perhaps together we can build a picture to better understand the answers.

Beware of declaring intentions!

Earlier in the year I wrote that I wanted to find out if we could feed the people using organic methods.  There’s masses of information on this topic, often under the headings of food security, sustainability and emissions reduction.  There are websites and research papers, books and talks and magazine articles.  And, of course, the answer to the inquiry (where there is one) depends on who’s giving that answer.

It seems that most of the research is done through computer modelling, and the results from this depend, as we know, on the data put into the model.  But, naïve as I was, I didn’t anticipate quite so much complexity.  For example: there’s agreement that we need to reduce the number of livestock we keep, but then, how much land will be needed to grow green manure to replace the manure from livestock? Then there’s the calculation that nuts and seeds require 3 times more land than dairy cattle to produce each unit of protein milk provides.  And what about the emissions calculations? – the amount of methane emitted by dairy cattle depends on the feed regime they’re on; the amount of emissions created by our consumption of seeds and nuts depends on the distance they travel and the processing they undergo.

Another aspect that I became more aware of while looking into this, is the land-use change that will be required to produce energy without using fossil fuels.  It seems as if wind turbines and solar will not be nearly enough.  There will be (already is in some parts of the country) a massive increase in land given over to growing bio-mass, plus much more woodland. Pastures and meadows for grazing will need (according to one projection) to drop from 11.5million hectares to 3 million hectares.

There are gains and losses whichever way I looked and of course, no clear answers as to whether or not organic methods can keep up with population growth.  For further thoughts, I recommend a visit to Knepp re-wilding project in West Sussex and the magazine ‘The Land’ (especially Issue 24) for articles on these and related matters.

Meanwhile, back to the allotment where I’m thinning the autumn sown Japanese onion sets to enjoy the sweetest, mildest onions, and also thinning carrots for those one-bite beauties that are ridiculously small, and fabulously tasty.

Read Pat’s first article here.



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