A recent study published in CAB Reviews looks at “Environmental impacts of organic agriculture in temperate regions” (Lynch et al. 2012, available at orgprints.org). It finds a substantial possible role for organic/agroecological methods in a resource-constrained future. (Interestingly, they call for “a more outcomes-based agroecological production system,” more on this in a moment.) This potential is not entirely in contrast with the recent article in the prestigious journal Nature, by Verena Seufert et al., “Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture“. Spoiler: they find lower yields in organic, but part of the punchline connected to the quote above: since outcomes-based organic agriculture is very hard to use as a definitive category, they use certified organic agriculture. Certified organic ag was developed for commercial purposes, and *not* as a way of codifying the “best practices” in organic agriculture. Indeed, Seufert et al. find that the “yield gap” between conventional and organic agriculture is substantially narrower (or nonexistent for some crops) when organic best practices are used.
Of importance here is a point (or series of them) I’ve made before, and many others before me: yields alone do little to predict or alleviate hunger, and so increasing yields (organically or conventionally) has MUCH less to do with hunger than is usually assumed. Another recent paper, by prominent agroecologist Teja Tscharntke and colleagues, makes this point well in the context of the “Land sparing/land sharing” debate.
Hopefully, we’ll have more on this subject (land sparing/land-sharing) to come. But wanted to mention the Lynch, Seufert, and Tscharntke papers while I was thinking about them.