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Can Sustainable Farming Really Feed the World's Hungry?


Many consider sustainable farming a boutique industry, unable to compete with conventional farming and produce enough food to supply populations outside their local communities. And that pesticides and modern food processing technology is the only way to meet the world's demand for food.

But Mark Bittman, New York Times contributor and author of The Food Matters Cookbook, claims advances in sustainable farming now make it a viable solution to world hunger. He also points out that today's industrial farming practices aren't the savior they appear, citing record highs in the global food price index. And that conventional farming takes too heavy a toll on the environment:

Yet there is good news: increasing numbers of scientists, policy panels and experts (not hippies!) are suggesting that agricultural practices pretty close to organic - perhaps best called “sustainable” - can feed more poor people sooner, begin to repair the damage caused by industrial production and, in the long term, become the norm…

…Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they're more in the form of labor, both intellectual - much research remains to be done - and physical: the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization. Many adherents rule out nothing, including in their recommendations even GMOs and chemical fertilizers where justifiable. Meanwhile, those working towards improving conventional agriculture are borrowing more from organic methods…

…No one knows how many people can be fed this way, but a number of experts and studies - including those from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the University of Michigan and Worldwatch - seem to be lining up to suggest that sustainable agriculture is a system more people should choose. For developing nations, especially those in Africa, the shift from high- to low-tech farming can happen quickly, said Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations' special rapporteur on the Right to Food: “It's easiest to make the transition in places that still have a direction to take.” But, he added, although “in developed regions the shift away from industrial mode will be difficult to achieve,” ultimately even those countries most “addicted” to chemical fertilizers must change.

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From the Organic Authority Files

According to, in 2010, 925 million people worldwide went hungry; primarily populations in Asia and the Pacific, as well as Sub-Sharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

But with big business industrial farming conglomerates downplaying the merits of sustainable farming it remains to be seen if sustainable farming practices will be able to flourish.

Other high-profile people like author Michael Pollan and actor Tyrese Gibson have also endorsed more eco-friendly and sustainable farmer practices.

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