Governments should only support agricultural systems that provide healthy food, minimize environmental impact and enable producers to earn a decent living. 11 international experts argue in the renowned scientific journal Nature Sustainability that organic agriculture has moved out of its niche and is now playing an important role in getting our food and agriculture systems right. They call for coherent policies that support sustainable food systems, incentivize better farming practices, and raise the bar of what is acceptable in farming in the 21st century.
There is broad consensus that the way we produce and consume food urgently needs to change in order to address global challenges including climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, and deteriorating health. However, the approach to achieving this is heavily contested: do we need to gradually make mainstream agriculture more sustainable, or promote systems such as organic farming? According to the experts, if we focus policies on achieving the universally adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), both approaches can go hand-in-hand and mutually reinforce each other.
Time to Transcend Ideological Barriers
“For too long, we have been trapped in heated debates on whether organic agriculture can feed the world. Transcending ideological barriers and vested interests now needs to be at the top of the agenda in order to accelerate the necessary shift.“ says lead author Frank Eyhorn from the Swiss development cooperation organization Helvetas and emphasizes that “We can no longer afford seemingly cheap food for which we actually pay several times, at the counter, through taxes for agricultural subsidies, when repairing part of the damage caused by intensive agriculture, and with increasing health bills.”
“The entire agriculture sector needs to become more sustainable,” says Louise Luttikholt, Executive Director of IFOAM – Organics International and contributor to the article. “Organic and agro-ecological farming methods can also be applied in multiple systems. We welcome newcomers to the sector and look forward to jointly accelerating a global shift towards truly sustainable farming systems. The SDGs offer a common framework for this task.”
Change Needs a Critical Mass
Change is already underway: The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently recognized the role of agro-ecological systems such as organic farming in addressing the huge challenges linked to our current food system. Government authorities in Germany, Austria, India, and Kyrgyzstan, for example, are implementing policies and action plans to substantially upscale organic farming.
A critical mass of scientists, farmers, policymakers, businesses, and civil society organizations will have to commit to an agenda for transformation if we are to drive change towards truly sustainable food systems.
© Helvetas – Sustainable Agriculture for People and Planet, Nepal