foto: wilhelm gunkel on unsplash
foto: wilhelm gunkel on unsplash
In a worldwide context agriculture is a major problem: On one hand, it contributes massively to the causes of climate change, overfertilizes soil and waters with nitrogen and phosphorus, decimates the diversity of species through chemical mace, and destroys moors, jungles, savannas, and the like. On the other hand, it is important to feed the people: According to UNO estimations 7.8 billion people were living on the earth in 2020. It is assumed that in 2050 there will be 9.7 billion. That is almost 2 billion people more than today. People that want to and must be fed. How is that supposed to work?
Organic cultivation has a huge advantage over conventional cultivation methods when it comes to the quality of soil and water. Also, the nutritional values of the plant are usually significantly better. Not to mention the biodiversity.* That is for example proven by an agricultural science experiment that has been going on since 1980 at the organic farm Birsmattehof in Oberwil in the Swiss canton Basel-Country.
But – and this “but” is momentous: The yields of the organic farms today, are approximately 20-25% lower than in the conventional agriculture. Should we aim for solely organic farming world wide in 2050, the agricultural cropland would have to be enlarged by 37% (from today’s point of view), says the Swiss agricultural scientist Urs Niggli (translated from German), who used to be head of the research center for organic agriculture (FiBL) in Frick, Swiss, between 1990 and 2020 and who was invited to the World Food Summit 2021 as an expert by the UN -Secretary General António Guterres.*
That would be disastrous for nature, because huge areas of various natural habitats would be destroyed and thus, the diversity of species would be further decimated.*
But (another but) is it an option to just continue doing what we have been doing? That does not make much sense either. We are already reaching the limits with the mixture of a lot of conventional and little organic agriculture. To feed 1.7 billion people more that way – with fewer and fewer insects – does not work. But the organic famers cannot do it alone either. So, what now?
That is definitely part of the solution. Cows produce the greenhouse gas methane which plays a major role when it comes to climate change. A new study by the Columbia University “finds that food production, distribution and consumption could still add around 1°C to planetary warming by 2100”.** Responsible for nearly 60% of that are “methane emissions, mostly from livestock burps and manure, rice paddies and decomposing food waste”.**
Alright, one could say, let’s just convert the pastures into land for legumes. Especially because soy, lentils, and the like deliver 20 times as much protein than meat on the same area.
In terms of climate protection this would not be a good idea, says Urs Niggli*(translated from German). After all, the pastureland stores large amounts of carbon, which would be released as greenhouse gas when converted into arable land. That way, more greenhouse gas would be emitted than the amount of methane that is released from cow’s stomachs. Niggly points out Indonesia – a sad example: There, 100,000 square kilometer moorland were drained and converted into palm-oil plantations, which emit more greenhouse gas than the whole European Union.*
Something similar happened in Argentina and Brazil, when large savanna areas, that were particularly suitable for cattle pasture, were converted into soy fields (for cattle feed – how ironic).
In brief, beef from Argentina or Brazil is not a solution, because lately the animals there are fattened intensely in so called feedlots in their remaining 100 days with concentrated feed made of corn, soy, and grain under inappropriate conditions.****
To reduce the consumption in this area it is definitely a necessary approach. “If health-focused recommendations were adopted globally, the world could avoid 21% of predicted food system-driven warming.”** (According to the study mentioned earlier in this text.)
“Cutting consumer-level food waste in half by 2100 would provide approximately 5% additional reduction in anticipated warming.”** In 2020 11 million tons of food waste were produced solely in Germany! Whereas 59% of this huge amount were produced by private individuals. In short: Every German throws away 78 kg food each year.***** Wow!
If you are interested in some ideas for food storage and left over recycling, check out the article “No more rotting”.
Of course, there is a huge saving potential in the production sector, the trading sector, and in out-of-home catering, but the consumers – we – account for the lion’s share.
As you can see, there is not THE one solution (as so often). It also becomes clear that the agricultural sector has the largest lever in terms of change. If the farmland that already exists was optimally used, then the focus would shift from fertilizing and weed – as well as crop spraying – to the structure of the soil and the health of the soil. The organic agriculture has a well-functioning system with 7 crop rotations, mixed cropping, and the combination of livestock farming and agriculture. Why can the conventional agriculture not “simply” adapt this system?
A computer model by the Swiss Institute*** has calculated, that a combination of 60% organic cultivation and 40% conventional cultivation would be able to reconcile ecosystem and nature protection as well as the reliable supply with sufficient, healthy food for what will soon be 10 billion people.* To put this in perspective: In 2021 organic cultivation had a share of 5% of the worldwide cultivation area (Source: Statista). In this regard, 60% organic cultivation would be a huge step. Yet, we would obviously be very happy if it was even more. But that is our very personal point of view.
But to make such developments even possible, on thing is mandatory: Instead of subsidizing income like today, biodiversity, soil fertility, climate goals, and species-appropriate husbandry should be supported, which do not have a price in the market economy. And we need to stop fighting and instead join forces to reach the goal of healthy and sustainable feeding of mankind, says the agricultural scientist Urs Niggli* (translated from German). Sounds convincing. Or nor? What do you think about it? We look forward to reading your comments.