"The idea that [organic] can replace other forms of agriculture is a dangerous lie" - Prof Philip Stott, chair of the US-funded Seeds of Opportunity conference
INTERVIEW - FAO says organic farming can reduce hunger
By David Brough - REUTERS
ROME - Organic agriculture has the potential to boost the incomes and food security of developing countries, but distribution problems will hinder the war on hunger, says the United Nations' world food body.
The Rome-based U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) believes that organic farming is a safe way of growing food and is not subject to the possible health and environmental risks associated with genetically modified (GM) foods.
Caught between the two diametrically opposed systems, the FAO, committed to eradicating hunger, sees the potential benefits of GM crops in terms of boosting yields to feed the poor, but insists that all precautions must be taken to ensure safety.
``Increasing organic farm production at a national level does not mean you can distribute to everyone,'' Nadia Scialabba, FAO environment officer and organic farming expert, told Reuters.
``The value of organic farming is the prevention of the unknown problems that come with intensification,'' she added, referring to recent food scares linked to industrial farming, such as mad cow disease and worries over GM crops.
Rich countries, such as the United States and those in the European Union, already produce substantial food surpluses.
The problem lies in how to distribute food efficiently to the hungry, whether it is produced intensively or organically.
Some 800 million people around the world are severely under-nourished. Three-quarters of the world's 1.2 billion people in abject poverty -- surviving on less than a dollar a day -- live in rural areas.
The U.N. admits that it is falling behind its target to halve global poverty and hunger by 2015. The FAO plans a world food summit in November to drum up the political will to achieve its goal.
An FAO document, made available to Reuters, said: ``Conventional systems of production have generated high environmental costs in many cases, and their reliance upon externally supplied inputs creates barriers to access amongst the poorest segments of the population.
``Organic agricultural production based upon cheap, locally available materials and technologies provides an important alternative in the search for an environmentally sound and equitable solution to the problem of food security,'' it added.
WHAT IS ORGANIC FARMING?
Organic farming means using methods in tune with nature, enhancing the local eco-system, without adding synthetic substances such as chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Organic agriculture is growing fast, especially in Western Europe. The FAO estimates that around two percent of food retailed globally is organic.
FAO officials estimate that organic food production is increasing by at least 20 percent a year in Western Europe as consumers worried over highly publicised food scares seek guarantees of food safety.
Germany plans to boost the share of organic agriculture to 20 percent of its farmland from the current 2.6 percent within the next 10 years.
The FAO has no forecasts for global organic food production.
The FAO believes it is important for developing countries to certify organic food products so they can compete on international markets.
``The extraordinary growing market of certified organic products offers export opportunities to developing countries,'' said another FAO document.
'Provided that producers of these countries are able to certify their products and access lucrative markets, returns from organic agriculture can potentially contribute to food security by increasing incomes,'' it added.
Scialabba said that governments need to invest in training farmers how to produce food organically. While organic agriculture does not require expensive inputs, farmers need to follow strict practices in order to certify produce as organic.