Nature just published the latest in the war over whether organic agriculture can feed the world. The headline: organic agriculture produces 25% less than industrial agriculture.
Tom Philpott, skillfully as ever, has sliced through the study, its silences and its implications. Headline: sure, if you look at the narrowest possible metrics, conventional’s better, but the whole point of organic is that you don’t just look at the narrowest possible metric.
As I’ll be arguing in a forthcoming, loooong, article in the Journal of Peasant Studies, the problem here is one we’ve seen in other comparisons between organic and conventional. Organic-industrial isn’t terribly far from industrial conventional. What this study, and others like it ignore are cases that don’t just try to compete on industrial agriculture’s terms, but on completely different ones. Agroecological farming, for instance, is more resilient to climate change, and can outperform conventional agriculture in real-world smallholder settings. In any case, the model of massive fossil-fuel dependent farms based on inefficient, insecure and unsanitary processing and distribution sysetms is flawed from the ground up. Reducing pesticide use at one end of the grinder, while keeping everything else the same, is hardly progress. Headline: A more organic cesspool is still a cesspool.
So what would progress look like? Eric Holt-Gimenez, together with Miguel Altieri, Hans Herren and Stephen Gliessman have ideas, and I’m reposting here the fine words you’ll find at Food First.