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Organic Agriculture Can Address Food Security, FAO Says

Please find below a selection of press articles relating to the recent International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security, held at the FAO in Rome from 3-5 May 2007. See http://www.fao.org/organicag/ofs/index en.htm

The message from the conference was clear – that organic agriculture should be supported, at national and international levels, as it has the potential to meet food security challenges (see our mailout on ‘Organic Agriculture – Proven But Needs Political Support’, 30 May 2007).

Evidence presented at the conference suggested that a large-scale shift to organic agriculture could help fight world hunger while improving the environment (Item 1). As such, FAO urged states to integrate organic agriculture objectives within national priorities to meet the food security challenge in their respective countries (Items 2 and 3).

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Third World Network
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Item 1

Switch to Organic Crops Could Help Poor

U.N. Conference: Large-Scale Switch to Organic Agriculture Could Help Fight World Hunger

By NICOLE WINFIELD

The Associated Press

ROME 5 May 2007

Organic food has long been considered a niche market, a luxury for wealthy consumers. But researchers told a U.N. conference that a large-scale shift to organic agriculture could help fight world hunger while improving the environment.

Crop yields initially can drop as much as 50 percent when industrialized, conventional agriculture using chemical fertilizers and pesticides is converted to organic. While such decreases often even out over time, the figures have kept the organic movement largely on the sidelines of discussions about feeding the hungry.

 

Researchers in Denmark found, however, that food security for sub-Saharan Africa would not be seriously harmed if 50 percent of agricultural land in the food exporting regions of Europe and North America were converted to organic by 2020.

While total food production would fall, the amount per crop would be much smaller than previously assumed, and the resulting rise in world food prices could be mitigated by improvements in the land and other benefits, the study found.

 

A similar conversion to organic farming in sub-Saharan Africa could help the region's hungry because it could reduce their need to import food, Niels Halberg, a senior scientist at the Danish Research Center for Organic Food and Farming, told the U.N. conference on "Organic Agriculture and Food Security."

Farmers who go back to traditional agricultural methods would not have to spend money on expensive chemicals and would grow more diverse and sustainable crops, the report said. In addition, if their food is certified as organic, farmers could export any surpluses at premium prices.

The researchers plugged in data on projected crop yields and commodity prices until 2020 to create models for the most optimistic and conservative outlooks.

Alexander Mueller, assistant director-general of the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, praised the report and noted that projections indicate the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa was expected to grow.

Considering that the effects of climate change are expected to hurt the world's poorest, "a shift to organic agriculture could be beneficial," he said.

Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, an FAO official who organized the conference, pointed to other studies she said indicated that organic agriculture could produce enough food per capita to feed the world's current population.

One such study, by the University of Michigan, found that a global shift to organic agriculture would yield at least 2,641 kilocalories per person per day, just under the world's current production of 2,786, and as many as 4,381 kilocalories per person per day, researchers reported. A kilocalorie is one "large" calorie and is known as the

"nutritionist's calorie."

"These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture today, but with reduced environmental impacts," Scialabba said in a paper presented to the conference.

However, she stressed that the studies were only economic models.

The United Nations defines organic agriculture as a "holistic" food system that avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, minimizes pollution and optimizes the health of plants, animals and people. It is commercially practiced in 120 countries and represented a $40 billion market last year, Scialabba said.

Item 2

‘States Must Integrate Organic Agriculture To Meet Food Security’

http://www.independentngonline.com/ 

By Sylvester Enoghase with Agency Report 

May 9th, 2007

 

The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has stated that states must integrate organic agriculture objectives within national priorities to meeting the food security challenge in their respective countries.

 

FAO expert on organic agriculture, Nadia Scialabba at an International Conference in Rome said "Organic agriculture is no longer a phenomenon in developed countries only, as it is commercially practiced in 120 countries, representing 31 million hectares and a market of US$ 40 billion in 2006. "The strongest feature of organic agriculture is its reliance on fossil-fuel independent and locally-available production assets; working with natural processes increases cost-effectiveness and resilience of agro-ecosystems to climatic stress".

He added, "By managing biodiversity in time and space organic farmers use their labour and environmental services to intensify production in a sustainable way. Organic agriculture also breaks the vicious circle of indebtedness for agricultural inputs, which causes an alarming rate of farmers’ suicides." 

He noted that the contribution to food security analyses attributes of organic supply chains against the Right to Food framework and proposes policy and research actions for improving the performance of organic agriculture at the national, international and institutional levels. 

"Most certified organic food production in developing countries goes to export. When certified cash crops are linked with agro-ecological improvements and accrued income for poor farmers, this leads to improved food self-reliance and revitalization of small holder agriculture", he said.

The Organic expert pointed out that labour requirements on organic farms, and the better return on labour, provides employment opportunities where this resource is most abundant, thus safeguarding rural livelihoods

He said "Organic management is a knowledge-based approach requiring understanding of agro-ecological processes and it remains a constraint where labour is scarce, such as in populations decimated by HIV/AIDS.

"These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture is today, but with reduced environmental impact," 

He therefore called on governments to allocate resources for organic agriculture and to integrate its objectives and actions within their national agricultural development and poverty reduction strategies, with particular emphasis on the needs of vulnerable groups. 

He however said that the recent models of a global food supply grown organically, which indicate that organic agriculture could produce enough food on a global per capita basis for the current world population should be vigorously pursued.

Item 3

Integrate organic agriculture objectives, FAO advises

By Jimoh Babatunde with Agency reports 


Posted to the Web: Friday, May 11, 2007

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said that overcoming the food security challenge through organic agriculture is possible if states could integrate organic agriculture objectives within national priorities.

In a paper, Organic Agriculture and Food Security, presented at an International Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security in Rome last week, FAO said: “Organic agriculture is no longer a phenomenon in developed countries only, as it is commercially practiced in 120 countries, representing 31 million hectares and a market of US$40 billion in 2006.”

The paper identifies the strengths and weaknesses of organic agriculture with regards to its contribution to food security, analyses attributes of organic supply chains against the Right to Food framework and proposes policy and research actions for improving the performance of organic agriculture at the national, international and institutional levels.

“The strongest feature of organic agriculture is its reliance on fossil-fuel independent and locally-available production assets; working with natural processes increases cost-effectiveness and resilience of agro-ecosystems to climatic stress,” the paper says.

“By managing biodiversity in time (rotations) and space (mixed cropping), organic farmers use their labour and environmental services to intensify production in a sustainable way. Organic agriculture also breaks the vicious circle of indebtedness for agricultural inputs which causes an alarming rate of farmers’ suicides.”

The paper recognizes that “most certified organic food production in developing countries goes to export” and adds that “when certified cash crops are linked with agro-ecological improvements and accrued income for poor farmers, this leads to improved food self-reliance and revitalisation of small holder agriculture.”

The paper underlines that some requirements should be met when converting to organic agriculture, mainly agro-ecological knowledge and labour availability. “Organic management is a knowledge-based approach requiring understanding of agro-ecological processes and it remains a constraint where labour is scarce, such as in populations decimated by HIV/AIDS.”

However, labour requirements on organic farms, and the better return on labour, provide employment opportunities where this resource is most abundant, thus safeguarding rural livelihoods, according to FAO expert Nadia Scialabba.
The paper also quotes recent models of a global food supply grown organically which indicate that organic agriculture could produce enough food on a global per capita basis for the current world population.

“These models suggest that organic agriculture has the potential to secure a global food supply, just as conventional agriculture is today, but with reduced environmental impact,” according to FAO.

The paper calls on governments to “allocate resources for organic agriculture and to integrate its objectives and actions within their national agricultural development and poverty reduction strategies, with particular emphasis on the needs of vulnerable groups.”

It also insists on investment in human resource development and skill training in organic agriculture as part of sustainable development strategies. According to the Codex Alimentarius Commission and all existing national regulations, “organic agriculture is a holistic production management system that avoids use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes the health and productivity of interdependent communities of plants, animals and people.”

On the eve of the commemoration of 60 years since the United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some rights, like the Right to Food, are overshadowed by those that have received more political and public support, yet severe food insecurity affects at least one-seventh of the world’s human population.

On 16 October 2007, FAO will celebrate World Food Day with the theme ‘‘The Right to Food’’. The Right to Food is the right of every person to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active, healthy life. It is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed. With more than 850 million people still deprived of enough food, the Right to Food is not just economically, morally and politically imperative— it is also a legal obligation.

Since 1996, following the World Food Summit, FAO has been working with governments and communities worldwide to gain recognition for this basic human right.

World Food Day activities involving over 150 countries to promote the Right to Food theme, include the 27th World Food Day ceremony at FAO headquarters on 16 October, a Run-for-Food race on 21 October in Rome, a special ceremony at the UN in New York on 18 October, a TeleConference in Washington D.C. and national-level activities including a gala in Spain and musical and sports events in various countries.

Right to Food guidelines

Given the persistent high numbers of undernourished people, in June 2002, the World Food Summit, five years later decided to develop guidelines to support Members’ efforts to realize the right of everyone to adequate food. In 2004, after intensive negotiations, The Right to Food Guidelines were adopted unanimously by FAO members. FAO set up a Right to Food Unit to support member countries in the implementation of the Guidelines.

The Right to Food Guidelines are a practical tool to assist countries in their efforts to eradicate hunger. The guidelines are a set of coherent recommendations on, among others, labour, land, water, genetic resources, sustainability, safety nets, education, and the international dimension.

They also encourage the allocation of budgetary resources to anti-hunger and poverty programmes, such as those currently being undertaken in Brazil and Mozambique.

By recognizing the Right to Food, governments have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil this right. In order to achieve the World Food Summit objective and Millennium Development Goal number one of reducing hunger by half by 2015, efforts are needed to give a voice to the hungry and to strengthen governments’ capacity to meet their obligations.

“The right to food is not a utopia. It can be realized for all. Some countries are on the way to doing this, but everyone should contribute to make this happen,” says Barbara Ekwall, Coordinator of the Right to Food Unit.

 


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