Benefits of organic farming to environment and society.

Published online
17 Jul 2019
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Sanders, J. & Hess, J.
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This paper presents a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of scientific studies on public goods provided by organic farming in the following areas: water protection, soil fertility, biodiversity, climate protection, climate adaptation, resource efficiency, and animal welfare. Across all indicators for the fields of environmental protection and resource conservation, organic management showed advantages over conventional management in 58% of the pairs analysed. The differences between organic and conventional agriculture in the area of environmental and resource protection are in particular a result of the system approach pursued in organic farming that in turn leads typically to a reduced production intensity. Apart from the indicators of N-discharge, CH4 emissions from dairy cattle farming, total GHG-emissions and nitrogen and energy efficiency, the environmental impact is solely related to the agricultural area. Animal welfare was assessed based on individual animals or at herd level. From a technical perspective, this reference unit is obvious because of the original context. For example, soil loss occurs on agricultural land. Flora and fauna also refers to a spatially delimited habitat. Animal welfare is considered to be inseparable. From a policy perspective, it should be borne in mind when assessing the environmental and animal welfare benefits of organic farming that the public expectation of agriculture is not limited to the protection of the environment or resources, but also includes their use and the production of food. A general determination of the reference unit (i.e., area or yield) does not do justice to the complexity of this relationship. Rather, a differentiated consideration is required in which context and manner in which resources are used or protected should be given higher priority. To this end, the spatial approach to reducing environmental problems (i.e., focusing on environmental performance locally or globally to mitigate degradation), the regional extent of the environmental problem (i.e., the scarcity of individual environmental goods in a region), and the degree and extent of leakage effects should be considered. From a societal perspective, especially in regions with severe environmental problems, it makes sense to use the area as a reference unit for the provision of local public goods such as water protection. In contrast, the assessment of global public goods, such as climate protection, should be primarily related to yields. Nevertheless, it has to be taken into account that organic farming can simultaneously reduce various environmental problems and consequently the aggregate impact should also play an important role when evaluating organic farming. Consequently, it can be concluded, that organic farming can make a relevant contribution to solving the contemporary environmental and resource challenges and is rightly considered a key technology for sustainable land use.

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