Many studies and experts tout the benefits of organic agriculture from being sustainable to being environmentally-friendly. But then, what does environmental impact mean in this industry?
Can organic agriculture help fight climate change? Can it contribute to ending world hunger and the water shortage crisis?
Read on to find out the answers.
Environmental impact: what does it mean?
To deeply understand the environmental impact of organic culture, you need to know what it means.
In reality, there are a few official definitions for “organic agriculture.” In the United States, it may refer to plants grown on topsoil that is free from synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for three consecutive years.
If there’s one thing that unites all organic farms globally, it’s their farming practices. According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, this type of agriculture:
- Promotes the proper use and management of natural resources such as land and water by avoiding the use of toxic chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides.
- Decreases the health risks that can affect both humans and animals by chemical pesticide use.
- Continuously improves farming methods to meet the local and international demand.
All these then contribute to the following:
- Sustainability of the Land
A sustainable land means it is safe for plants to grow and for humans and animals to inhabit. Unfortunately, many conventional farming practices can damage it. Some of these include stripping of trees that will only promote land erosion.
Using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, meanwhile, can change the quality and pH of the topsoil. It is, therefore, possible that the plants that normally grow there won’t thrive anymore.
On the other hand, substituting these chemicals with compost or manure can promote a greater diversity of microorganisms. These will further enrich the soil, making them more suitable and healthier for crops.
- Preservation of Water
Conventional agriculture can cause or worsen water pollution through run-offs. It means the fertilizers that should end up in plants and soil actually leach into the water supply.
When this happens, these chemicals can encourage eutrophication. It is a process wherein nutrients in the water become excessive, leading to the massive growth of algae. If left unmanaged, it can potentially change the marine ecosystem.
In an ideal organic farming method, farmers use can use mulch, which helps hold water from running off to the reservoirs.
Examples of human environmental impacts
What does environmental impact mean in organic agriculture? Responsible organic farming can help fight deforestation. Farmers work while preserving their surroundings.
This practice, though, can have a much bigger positive effect: it can help mitigate climate change. By reducing climate change, organic agriculture then helps improve the health and well-being of humans.
Consider the following points:
- Trees help control climate change by creating carbon sinks. They can use carbon dioxide for the production of their food, a process called photosynthesis.
- A more enriched soil can help prevent water loss. It means the land becomes less likely to suffer significantly during drought.
- Trees can also prevent flooding and landslides, thereby, protecting human lives.
Climate change could be responsible for over 200,000 deaths from 2030 to 2050, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The healthcare costs could reach more than $3 billion annually by 2030.
Can organic and sustainable agriculture help in ending the hunger crisis?
By 2030, Earth will be home to 8.5 billion people. As early as now, though, food insecurity is a significant problem in some countries. It then begs the question, can organic agriculture feed this number of people?
In a 2016 Guardian article, the author John Reganold and Jonathan Wachter, his doctoral student, concluded that it can. This is after they reviewed studies that span for 40 years.
For one, organic farms occupy less than 1% of agricultural land. They believed it still has a huge potential for growth.
The yield may be less than conventional agriculture, but the end product can be healthier since it is free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. That can translate to lesser healthcare costs and higher disposable income for families.
As organic farming spreads, it may also increase supply. It can then lower prices of food in the market.
What does environmental impact mean in organic agriculture? It goes beyond land sustainability. It also implies the industry’s ability to help provide world hunger solutions and reduce climate change.
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