Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems

Review Article

Organic agriculture and climate change

Nadia El-Hage Scialabbaa1 c1 and Maria Müller-Lindenlaufa1

a1 Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy.

Abstract

This article discusses the mitigation and adaptation potential of organic agricultural systems along three main features: farming system design, cropland management and grassland and livestock management. An important potential contribution of organically managed systems to climate change mitigation is identified in the careful management of nutrients and, hence, the reduction of N2O emissions from soils. Another high mitigation potential of organic agriculture lies in carbon sequestration in soils. In a first estimate, the emission reduction potential by abstention from mineral fertilizers is calculated to be about 20% and the compensation potential by carbon sequestration to be about 40–72% of the world's current annual agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but further research is needed to consolidate these numbers. On the adaptation side, organic agriculture systems have a strong potential for building resilient food systems in the face of uncertainties, through farm diversification and building soil fertility with organic matter. Additionally, organic agriculture offers alternatives to energy-intensive production inputs such as synthetic fertilizers which are likely to be further limited for poor rural populations by rising energy prices. In developing countries, organic agricultural systems achieve equal or even higher yields, as compared to the current conventional practices, which translate into a potentially important option for food security and sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor in times of climate change. Certified organic products cater for higher income options for farmers and, therefore, can serve as promoters for climate-friendly farming practices worldwide.

(Accepted February 02 2010)

(Online publication March 30 2010)

Key Words:

  • organic agriculture;
  • climate change;
  • mitigation;
  • adaptation;
  • carbon sequestration;
  • diversification;
  • resilience

Correspondence:

c1 Corresponding author: nadia.scialabba@fao.org

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