Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

Nothing 'immoral' in organic agriculture

Grace Maher

Grace Maher

While John Shirley's recent article ("Is organic farming immoral when millions are starving?") reflects the views of Dr Keith Dawson, the language and the headline used were over dramatic.

Apparently, the view of Dr Dawson, from the Scottish Agricultural College (where, co-incidentally, there is an excellent Msc in Organic Farming with many participants from Ireland) was to question the morals of organic farmers due to the starving in the world. However, it was disingenuous and insulting to suggest organic farming contributes to world hunger.

Organic farming does not rely on expensive chemical inputs. Yields in organic farming continue to rise and are on a par with conventional farming in many sectors.

So the combined impact of increasing yields and reduced inputs make organic farming a more economical and sustainable option. The article correctly highlights the challenges for food production due to rising global populations. I welcome the fact John regards organic farmers that he has met as "very moral citizens". He may also recognise the fact that organic farms are more diverse and output per farm size is often significantly higher than mono-culture farms.

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture (UNFAO) special rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter, recently said that keeping "blindly on the track of industrial agriculture is clearly unsustainable". In addition, the growing challenge of diet-related illness means we need to explore the relationship between food production and its consumption.

With a world that has around one billion people malnourished and one billion obese, not to mention the volumes of food wasted, there is a case for bringing public health to the farming and food-production table, to identify solutions for our food security.

In an era when poor-quality food has expensive consequences, we need innovative, constructive solutions, not cheap shots. All citizens of the world have a right to quality, nutritious food which has been produced in a sustainable manner, and this is what many organic farmers are providing. Two of the regions cited in this article have embraced organic food production.

Organic farming has been exploding in Cuba since the 1990s when they could no longer buy pesticides due to political relationships with Russia and the US. The Cubans put resources into organic agriculture, agroecology and integrated pest management -- all of which have been successful in increasing food production. In sub-Saharan Africa, expensive hybrid seeds have not been able to cope with droughts, so farmers are using indigenous seeds with naturally resistant genes which are producing crops more successfully.

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Grace Maher is a development officer with the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association

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