Organic farming is closest match to model system of sustainability, with opportunities to improve

Farming comes in all shapes and sizes and varies in levels of sustainability, though there has been a growing global push for all farming to become more equitable and better for human and environmental health. A recent study in the journal Sustainability compared three types of farming systems to the “desired” system with the most sustainability, and found that organic farming provides the closest match to that desired system, with some room to grow.

The study proposed a new, desired food system that would address the shortcomings of current systems around the globe. The researchers compared big picture sustainability of four food systems: high input (industrialized) low input (primitive), organic, and desired (proposed new system), across seven global regions. Indicators of sustainability were broken down into three main categories: technical, geographic, and social. Technical indicators include: Single/multiple enterprises, crop rotations, livestock management, tillage, nutrient management, pest control methods, costs of inputs, energy use and cost, greenhouse gas emissions and resource use, recycling, outputs, and sustainability/environmental conservation payments. Geographic indicators include: climatic adaptation, natural resources, and agrobiodiversity. Social indicators include: livelihood, well-being, diets, cultural needs, markets, subsidies, and policies.

While the study identifies the downfalls in sustainability for each system, it also shows that organic matches the desired system the best. The researchers suggest the “new paradigm has the potential to direct global efforts towards more local and regional solutions, which are community driven and constitute a ‘bottom-up’ approach” and highlight pathways to improve sustainability in all systems. They also suggest that organic farming as a food system can benefit from more research in the areas of input costs like labor and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by improving yields.  


Banner photo credit: Greta Farnedi;