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Long-term study shows: Organic farming is beneficial for small scale farmers

by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)

Farmers take samples in a field in India. © FiBL
Farmers take samples in a field in India. © FiBL

Under tropical conditions, organic farming can contribute significantly to sustainable development. This was the conclusion of a long-term trial that has been running since 2007.

At that time, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) joined forces with partners in Kenya, India and Bolivia to form the SysCom research project. In one region each, they accompanied organic and conventional producers over the years, collected data and compared them. The final report has now been published.

The most important results: In terms of yields, the organic farmers were able to keep up with their conventional colleagues, but with high fluctuations in annual crops. Important reasons for this were pest infestation and insufficient nutrient supply through organic fertilisers. Lower yields were compensated by much lower costs for external inputs such as pesticides or fertilisers, and by higher prices for the products. This makes organic farming a suitable option especially for capital-poor smallholders, the report says.

Organic builds soil

"We also found that organic systems can build soil fertility over the long term if well managed," the scientists wrote. Soil organic carbon was increased after a decade of organic inputs from compost, mulch and litter, the soils were more biologically active and their physical properties improved.

In the case of the cacao cultivation studied in Bolivia, the superiority of agroforestry systems over plantations was demonstrated (regardless of whether organic or conventional). Although the monocultures produced higher cocoa yields, the agroforestry systems with their diversity of products were more productive overall. Biodiversity was also much higher there, the report says.

Advantages for all parties

"Our results also show the additional benefits that organic systems provide to society and the environment compared to conventional systems," the scientists wrote. As examples, they cited fewer pesticide residues in soil, water and produce, higher nutrient content and increased biodiversity. Beate Huber, who led the program at FiBL, said, "Organic agriculture has proven potential to help transform the food system, even in low-income countries." To seize this opportunity, she said, investments must be made in research and education, and farmers must be fairly compensated.



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