The simplest way to define organic agriculture is that it is a system that depends on ecosystem management as opposed to the use of external and chemical/artificial agricultural inputs. In other words, it focuses on potential social and environmental consequences by doing away with the use of synthetic inputs such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified breeds and seeds, additives, veterinary drugs, growth hormones, irradiation and preservatives.
In organic agriculture, these are replaced with site-particular management observances that preserve and improve long-term soil fertility, animal and crop health, and in preventing pest and diseases.
According to FAO,
“Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It emphasises the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems.“
It categorically underscores the need for utilizing management practices with a strong liking to the use of agronomic, mechanical, and biological methods while considering locally adaptable systems as opposed to using synthetic materials. Organic agriculture has thus proved to be environmentally friendly, especially due to its several advantages as outlined below.
Pros of Organic Agriculture
- Soil conservation
The numerous soil building practices namely inter-cropping, organic fertilizer, crop rotations, cover crops, minimum tillage, and symbiotic associations are fundamental in organic agriculture. These practices promote soil flora and fauna, improves soil structure and formation, and creates more stable soil systems.
Accordingly, it increases energy and nutrient cycling and the retentive abilities of the soil for water, and nutrients are strengthened. This caters for the non-use of mineral fertilizers and the practices also aids in soil erosion management. As a result, the exposure of the soil to erosive forces is lessened and soil biodiversity as well as productivity is enhanced. And, since all inputs are from farm-derived renewable resources; the soil’s health and quality is always optimum.
- Improved Air Quality and Climate Change prevention
Organic agriculture limits the dependency on non-renewable energy use by reducing agro-chemical needs, which habitually demand high amounts of fossil fuel to be manufactured. Thus, organic agriculture helps in mitigating global warming and the greenhouse gas effect by cutting down the use of fossil fuels.
Also, with the reduction of fossil fuel use, it means air quality is improved as harmful gases released into the atmosphere during the production of agro-chemicals are equally cut back. The majority of organic agriculture management techniques including use of cover crops, crop rotation, and minimum tillage among others also increase the sequester of carbon in the soil.
The more organic carbon is held in the soil and the more there is reduced dependency on non-renewable energy use, the more the agricultural mitigation possibility of climate change prevention.
- Environmental Sustainability in the long-haul
The measures and practices observed in organic agriculture are all meant to cater for the needs of ensuring a sustainable environment. Organic agriculture centrally aims at producing food while laying down an ecological balance to avoid pest problems and soil fertility. The practices therefore consider the long-term impacts of agricultural interventions on the agro-ecosystem which contributes to environmental sustainability.
- Water preservation
In numerous agricultural productions locations, pollution of adjacent open water sources and groundwater systems with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and toxic metals is a huge problem. As the uses of these inputs are highly forbidden in organic agriculture, they are substituted by organic fertilizers such as green, compost and animal manure, biological pest/disease control methods, enhancement of soil structure, and the use of greater biodiversity as well as water infiltration.
Well managed organic systems with enhanced nutrient control techniques present reduced risks of groundwater pollution and the neighboring open water sources. Organic agriculture can hence be encouraged in areas where agricultural water pollution is a major problem.
- Protection of Biodiversity
Organic agriculture is the number one promoter and custodian of biodiversity at all levels around the globe. At the species level, diverse animals and plants modify and act on nutrient and energy cycling to achieve the maximum efficiency in agricultural production. At the gene level, well adapted and traditional breeds and seeds are more desirable for their better resistance to diseases and adaptability to climatic stress.
At the ecosystem level, the protection of natural areas within and around organic fields and non-use of chemical inputs establishes sustainable habitats for wildlife. Also the maintenance of organic practices lessens erosion of agro-biodiversity and creates an improved health condition of the gene pool.
The practices also provide sustainable shelter, food, and environmental conditions that are suitable thereby attracting more species to the organic area including wild flora and fauna which benefit the ecological setup by playing different niches.
- Ecological stability
Organic farming plays multiple roles in promoting ecological stability by offering numerous ecological services. Some of the ecological services include soil stabilization, carbon sequestration, predation, promoting sustainable habitats, nutrients cycling, waste recycling, water preservation, and soil forming and conditioning.
Besides, organic agriculture encourages a less polluting agricultural system and it lessens the hidden costs of agriculture to the environment in regards to natural resource degradation. All in all, the results of organic agriculture in natural resources benefits the associations between agro-ecosystems and ecological setups that are crucial for both natural conservation and agricultural production, bringing about ecological stability.
- Offers a precautionary measure against GMO’s
The potential impacts of GMOs to both human health and the environment are not yet fully understood, which warrants the need for agricultural systems to take great precaution against the use of GMOs. For this reason, natural biodiversity is preferred. On this account, organic agriculture takes the lead in ensuring that agricultural produce are free of GMOs since their usage is strictly prohibited during any stage of organic food production, processing or handling. Organic agriculture hence provides the surety that its products are completely free of GMOs which as perceived to have serious long-term health and environmental consequences.
- Improved human health
Because organic food is not produced or processed by the use of chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizers, it does not contain any elements of toxic chemicals and may not affect human health in harmful ways. The use of natural techniques such as green manure, pasture grazing, and crop rotation promote safer and healthier living.
For instance, E. Coli is a huge source of concern, especially for non-organically produced livestock (cows) with the 0157:H7 as the most experienced virulent strain. In most cases, humans infected with E. Coli are revealed to have obtain the infection through meat contaminated at slaughter.
Evidence hints that such virulent strains form in the digestive tract of cattle that are predominately fed on starchy grains. Since organic cattle are mostly fed on grass, hay, and silage diets, it invariably limits the potential of E. Coli exposure.
Cons of Organic Agriculture
Aside from its many advantages, organic agriculture also has its disadvantages. Here are some of the disadvantages of organic agriculture.
- Organically produced products are expensive
Certified organic products are in most cases more expansive than the conventional non-organic products. The reasons for the high prices are because organic food supply is small in quantity compared to demand, higher production costs of organic foods, the strict processing and handling procedures, and their marketing as well as distribution chain is comparatively inefficient. This is one of the biggest challenges of organic agriculture, but with the right economic scaling and technological innovations, costs of production, processing, distribution and marketing can significantly be reduced to address the issue.
- Risk of exposure to biological contaminants
Organic agriculture that is not well managed is linked with the exposure to biological contaminates. Manure is one of the outlined sources associated with micro-biological contamination. Manure is known to be a carrier of human pathogens, but if not properly treated (composted), it becomes unsafe as a form of organic fertilizer.
The outcome of not fully treating the manure before use is the risks of exposure to pathogens. Post-harvest handling, that is, packaging, processing, and storage is where organic products contamination could occur if not properly managed. Strict procedures must be followed to ensure the quality of organic products is not affected.
- Time consuming
Organic agriculture requires a lot of commitment, patience and uphill struggle as it entails a high amount of interaction within and around the organic agricultural setup. Organic agriculture focuses on potential social and environmental consequences by doing away with the use of synthetic inputs such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers, genetically modified breeds and seeds, additives, veterinary drugs, growth hormones, irradiation and preservatives.
These are replaced with site-particular management observances that preserve and improve long-term soil fertility, animal and crop health, and in preventing pest and diseases which are highly labor intensive and time-consuming.