Role of Organic Agriculture in Preventing and Reversing Land Degradation
Soil erosion and desertification are the physical expressions of land degradation, while the social and economic impacts are degraded lifestyles and pernicious poverty. An understanding of how to maintain healthy soil is essential to reverse and prevent land degradation.
Organic agriculture is a whole system approach based upon a set of processes resulting in sustainable ecosystems, safe food, good nutrition, animal welfare and social justice. It is more than just a system of production that includes or excludes certain inputs, particularly agro-chemicals, because it builds on and enhances the ecological management skills of farmers, fisher folk and pastoralists. Practicing organic or agro-ecological agriculture requires ecological knowledge, planning and commitment to work with natural systems, rather than trying to change them.
IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) is an organization that promotes such sustainable agricultural systems. The application and upholding of the principles of organic agriculture can help ensure that agriculture can be continued throughout the world while contributing to the prevention and reversal of land degradation, combating poverty and building a fairer world order for all people. In 2004, IFOAM published a scoping study on “The Role of Organic Agriculture in Mitigating Climate Change”. The study looked at how organic agriculture could contribute to reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Organic agriculture minimizes carbon dioxide emissions from agricultural ecosystems, and can also contribute to carbon sequestration because of the systematic application of manure and compost from animal and crop residues, crop-legume rotations, green manuring with legumes, and agroforestry with multipurpose leguminous trees. Soil is the most important sink for methane where high bacterial activity oxidizes it. Controlled anaerobic digestion of animal manure can contribute significantly to reducing methane emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions are minimized in an organic system.
In 1996, the Institute for Sustainable Development started to work with local farming communities and local development agents and experts in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, to rehabilitate their environment and raise crop yields through using compost. Since 1998, ISD has monitored the impact of compost on crop yields in farmers’ fields. Overall, compost generally doubles the yield from fields that have not had any input. In most cases it also gives a higher yield than the use of chemical fertilizer. Other benefits from using compost include increased moisture retention capacity of the soil and reduced crop pest problems.
The principles behind organic agriculture are also used in programs and projects focused on overcoming food insecurity, rural poverty and environmental degradation. In 2003, IFOAM reported that over 40,000 farms covering 235,000 ha of land were growing certified organic products in Africa.
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