Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture

Adrian Muller, Christian Schader, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Judith Brüggemann, Anne Isensee, Karl-heinz Erb, Pete Smith, Peter Klocke, Florian Leiber, Matthias Stolze, Urs Niggli

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Abstract

Organic agriculture is proposed as a promising approach to achieving sustainable food systems, but its feasibility is also contested. We use a food systems model that addresses agronomic characteristics of organic agriculture to analyse the role that organic agriculture could play in sustainable food systems. Here we show, that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use. However, in combination with reductions of food wastage and food-competing feed from arable land, with correspondingly reduced production and consumption of animal products, land use under organic agriculture remains below the reference scenario. Other indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions also improve, but adequate nitrogen supply is challenging. Besides focusing on production, sustainable food systems need to address waste, crop-grass-livestock interdependencies and human consumption. None of the corresponding strategies needs full implementation and their combined partial implementation delivers a more sustainable food future.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1290
JournalNature Communications
Volume8
Early online date14 Nov 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • agriculture
  • environmental impact
  • sustainability

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    Muller, A., Schader, C., Scialabba, N. E-H., Brüggemann, J., Isensee, A., Erb, K., Smith, P., Klocke, P., Leiber, F., Stolze, M., & Niggli, U. (2017). Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture. Nature Communications, 8, [1290]. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-01410-w