Organic farmland hits 37m hectares

ORGANIC PRODUCE has had an uneasy time during the recession, but new research shows that 37 million hectares of land are now farmed organically.


Despite a slight decline between 2009 and 2010, since 1999 the global land area farmed organically has expanded more than threefold, concluded the Worldwatch Institute in its study.


Organic farming is now established in international standards, and 84 countries had implemented organic regulations by 2010, up from 74 countries in 2009.


“Although organic agriculture often produces lower yields on land that has recently been farmed conventionally, it can outperform conventional practices – especially in times of drought – when the land has been farmed organically for a longer time,” said Laura Reynolds, a researcher with Worldwatch’s Food and Agriculture Programme.


Reynolds and her co-author, Catherine Ward, concluded that organic farming has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and sustaining livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing biodiversity.


While organic farming is relatively labour intensive, it uses up to 50% less fossil fuel energy than conventional farming, and common organic practices also stabilise soils and improve water retention, thus reducing vulnerability to harsh weather patterns, the said. On average, organic farms have 30% higher biodiversity, including birds, insects, and plants, than conventional farms do, the study claimed.


Regions with the largest certified organic agricultural land in 2010 were Oceania, including Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations (12.1 million hectares); Europe (10 million hectares); and Latin America (8.4 million hectares).


According to the Soil Association and Triodos Bank, global sales of organic products continue to defy the economic downturn, growing by 8.8% in 2010 with growth continuing into 2011. The only exception was in the UK where, despite areas of strong growth and improvement in recent years, overall sales were down by 3.7% in 2011.