Ecological farming enables communities to produce enough food to feed themselves. This form of agriculture fosters a future of healthy farming, and healthy food, to all people. Ecological farming helps the world’s population to mitigate—and adapt to—climate change.
Analyses have also shown that ecological farming makes sense economically. First, this modern farming method leads to increased crop yields. Globally, ecological farming can produce an average of approximately 30% more food per hectare than conventional agriculture. In developing countries, ecological farming can produce roughly 80% more food per hectare. Second, cost efficiencies come from using natural, locally-available fertilizers and organic pest control. This saves costs on synthetic chemical inputs that pollute.
Finally, evidence indicates that ecologically farmed products taste better and promote better health. A recent study in California shows that organically-grown strawberries taste sweeter than their conventional, chemically-grown counterparts. The organic variety also contains 10% more dietary antioxidants, which are known to protect against disease.
How It Works
Biodiverse farming—using a mix of different crops and plant varieties in a given field—is a reliable, proven ecological-farming method. In conventional farming, monocultures are used: growing a single crop over a wide area was standard practice. In contrast, biodiverse farming has emerged as the single most important modern approach to achieving food security in a changing climate.
Specifically, biologically diverse farming, also called intercropping, increases plants’ resilience to erratic weather changes. Scientists have shown that biodiversity provides a natural insurance policy against major climate changes, both in the wild and in agriculture.
Organic pest control is another feature of ecological farming. Instead of using chemical pesticides, ecological farmers use non-polluting, long-term pest protection. One method is to introduce beneficial insects to the field. Another method is to plant crop fields strategically and to use “low-input” technologies that are available locally. As a result, crops are less vulnerable to pest invasion.
Natural fertilizers are also key to ecological farming. Achieving fertile soil entailsgrowing green manures such as legumes. Adding compost and animal dung can also enrich soil. These are just some of the effective ways of boosting the soil’s organic matter and fertility without synthetic fertilizers. Using natural fertilizers also saves on farmers’ costs; it eliminates the need for artificial inputs. With natural fertilizers, soil is richer in organic matter, better able to retain water, and better protected against erosion.
Who Practices It?
Currently, 2.6 billion people—40% of the world’s population—are small-scale farmers. These farmers produce most of the food we consume.
Millions of farmers around the world are practicing ecological farming. They are showing that it’s possible to produce enough food and to achieve economic success using ecological farming methods.
Increased crop yields: In the United States, agronomists compared maize fields planted as monocultures to those with various levels of intercropping. It was the fields with the highest diversity (three crops plus three “cover” crops) that produced the highest yield—by more than 100%.
Richer, more fertile soil: A 21-year study of European farms showed that organic fertilizers offer better soil stability, greater fertility, and higher biodiversity (including earthworms and more microbes) than soils fertilized synthetically.
Sustainable fertilizers: A meta-analysis of data from 77 published studies suggests that legumes used as green manures can provide enough nitrogen to replace the entire amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer currently in use—without losses in food production.
Resilience to pests: Scientists and farmers in Yunnan, China, used biodiverse farming to reverse “rice blast”, the fungus that is the primary cause of disease in rice plants. Disease-susceptible rice varieties inter-planted with resistant varieties had an 89% greater yield. The incidence of disease was 94% lower compared to that of conventional monoculture.
Cost-efficient farming: In Andhra Pradesh, India, ecological farming helped increase farmers’ net incomes. Savings on chemical pesticides ranged between 600 and 6,000 Indian Rupees (USD $15-150) per hectare—while crop yields remained stable.
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