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Surprising Science

Can Organic Food Feed the World?

Conventional farming practices favor corporate agriculture and are widely considered environmentally unsustainable, but can organic farming feed a world with nine billion people?

What’s the Latest Development?

As world population heads toward 9 billion by 2050, the environmental impacts of conventional farming are becoming more serious. From staple foods and animal feed to clothes and vehicle fuel, we demand more agricultural output than ever. “Farming is the leading cause of deforestation in the tropics and one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions…and a perennial source of nonrenewable groundwater mining and water pollution.” To combat these negative environmental impacts, some farmers are turning to organic techniques which do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or hormone treatments for livestock.

What’s the Big Idea?

Organic farming is a knowledge-intensive pursuit, so depending on the farm, output can vary widely. But in general, conventional methods produce about a quarter more food when it comes to staple crops like wheat. Unfortunately, the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer which takes most of the credit for conventional crop yields creates ‘dead zones’ when it runs off into local rivers and streams. Global nutrition is also a question of distribution. The world currently produces 22 trillion calories annually, enough for every person to receive 3,000 calories per day. Yet in the U.S. alone, 215 meals per person go to waste annually.

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