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Organic agriculture and climate change

A recently published paper in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems concludes that organic agriculture has strong climate mitigation and adaptation potential. The paper was written by Nadia El-Hage Scialabba and Maria Müller-Lindenlauf from the FAO.

The paper makes the case for good agricultural management via organic agriculture practices – in relation to farming system design, cropland management, and grassland and livestock management – that can compensate for most of the agriculture sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. It finds that organic agricultural systems have an inherent potential to both reduce emissions and to enhance carbon sequestration in the soil.

In particular, the careful management of nutrients and hence the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions from soils – the most important source of agricultural emissions – is a significant contribution of organic agriculture. Indirect emissions can furthermore be reduced in organic systems by avoidance of mineral fertilizers. In addition, the highest mitigation potential of organic agriculture lies in carbon sequestration in soils and in reduced clearing of primary ecosystems.

Importantly, the main organic strategies are diversification and an increase of soil organic matter, which both could enhance resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of climate variability. These strategies also have a high potential to enhance the productivity of degraded soils, while enhancing soil carbon sequestration, providing simultaneous adaptation and mitigation benefits.

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang

Malaysia

Email: twnet@po.jaring.my

Websites: www.twnside.org.sg, www.biosafety-info.net

Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: 25(2); 158–169 doi:10.1017/S1742170510000116

Organic agriculture and climate change

Nadia El-Hage Scialabba* and Maria Müller-Lindenlauf

Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of theUnited Nations (FAO), Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy.

*Corresponding author: nadia.scialabba@fao.org

Accepted 2 February 2010; First published online 30 March 2010 Review Article

Abstract

This article discusses the mitigation and adaptation potential of organic agricultural systems along three main features: farming system design, cropland management and grassland and livestock management. An important potential contribution of organically managed systems to climate change mitigation is identified in the careful management of nutrients and, hence, the reduction of N2O emissions from soils. Another high mitigation potential of organic agriculture lies in carbon sequestration in soils. In a first estimate, the emission reduction potential by abstention from mineral fertilizers is calculated to be about 20% and the compensation potential by carbon sequestration to be about 40–72% of the world’s current annual agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but further research is needed to consolidate these numbers. On the adaptation side, organic agriculture systems have a strong potential for building resilient food systems in the face of uncertainties, through farm diversification and building soil fertility with organic matter. Additionally, organic agriculture offers alternatives to energy-intensive production inputs such as synthetic fertilizers which are likely to be further limited for poor rural populations by rising energy prices. In developing countries, organic agricultural systems achieve equal or even higher yields, as compared to the current conventional practices, which translate into a potentially important option for food security and sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor in times of climate change. Certified organic products cater for higher income options for farmers and, therefore, can serve as promoters for climate-friendly farming practices worldwide.

Key words: organic agriculture, climate change, mitigation, adaptation, carbon sequestration, diversification, resilience

 


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