Incorporating Agroecology Into Organic Research –An Ongoing Challenge
- Urs Niggli
Agroecology – as a scientific discipline and as an approach to sustainable farming practice – has objectives similar to those of organic agriculture. The paper sharpens the profile of both concepts and identifies strengths and weaknesses. The overarching challenge of both is to minimize trade-offs between food and fiber production on the one hand and non-commodity ecosystem services on the other hand. A comparison of the two approaches may well be inspiring, especially for the future development of organic food systems.
Best use of human, social and natural capital characterizes organic farmers, especially in developing countries, as documented by many case studies from sub-Saharan Africa. That also applies to organic farms in temperate zones, although usually more external inputs are used in organic farming there. While the profitability of organic farms is comparable to or slightly higher than that of conventional ones, per area food production is lower by an average of 20 to 25 percent in temperate zones. Overly restrictive production standards are often mentioned as the cause, but also a lag in production techniques. One of the main approaches of organic agriculture to augment productivity is ecological or eco-functional intensification. Thereby, the goal is to maintain the ecological and social qualities of the farms and to increase food output. The future development of organic agriculture can be characterized by a comprehensive culture of innovation embracing social, ecological and technological innovations. Such a concept of innovation includes dynamic interactions between farmers and scientists in order to strengthen system resilience and make better use of basic research from a wide range of scientific disciplines.
- Joan LeeEditorial Assistant