|Chosen papers on organic farming
Multifunctionality of organic farming
Angelantonio D’Amario, Fabio Marzoli, Francesco Martino, Michele Morettini
Organic farming is being recognised as a growing economic activity and one that meets many of society's current demands on agriculture such as sustainability, biodiversity, regional development, respect for the intrinsic values of plant and animals and all these features can be resumed with the word multifunctionality. Agriculture may be defined as multifunctional when it has one or several roles or functions in addition to its primary role of producing food. The value of organic food is not just the crops and livestock products it yields. It has other functions such as food security, environmental protection, conservation of non renewable resources, conservation of biodiversity and reorientation of agriculture towards areas of market demand (Lampkin,1990).
All these functions lie at the heart of organic farming. Actually the production practices used in this kind of agriculture aim to create integrated, humane, environmentally, economically and socially sustainable agricultural production systems. The term organic (synonyms used in other country are: biological, ecological, biodynamic, natural, sustainable etc) refer not to the type of inputs used, but to the concept of the farm as a system in which all the component parts (the soil minerals, organic matter, microorganisms, insects, plants, animals and humans) interact to create an integrated organism.
The principles and practices of organic farming can be resumed on the following aspects (Lampkin,1990; Neuerburg and Padel, 1992):
- Protecting the long-term fertility of soils by maintaining organic matter levels and microbiological activity.
- Providing crop nutrients indirectly by using relatively insoluble nutrient sources which are made available to the plant by the action of soil microorganisms.
- Nitrogen self sufficiency through the use of legumes and biological nitrogen fixation, as well as effective recycling of organic materials including crop residues and livestock wastes.
- Weed, disease and pest control relying primarily on crop rotations, natural predators, diversity, organic manuring, resistant varieties and limited thermal, biological and chemical intervention.
- The extensive management of livestock, paying full regard to their evolutionary adaptations, behavioural needs and animal welfare issue with respect to nutrition, housing, health, breeding and rearing.
- Careful attention to the impact of the farming system (included the transformation industry) on the wider environment and the conservation of biodiversity and natural habitats.
Farmers often are reluctant to convert into organic because of the perceived high costs and the risk involved even though organic products can achieve premium prices on the market in comparison to conventional products. If the system is taken from the viewpoint of society as a whole rather than from the viewpoint of the farmer business we can state that organic farming is economically justified. The reasons are that it can produce positive externalities:
- Its impact on the environment may be preferred to that of conventional farming;
- Its impact on rural employment may be greater than conventional farming, giving it an important role in the field of pluri-activity;
- Organic farming practices can also affect the non agrarian land use for example hunters' or tourists' interests.
The market system cannot fully reflect all these positive externalities generated by organic farming because the environment concerns is an example of “market failure”. Conservation of biodiversity, habitats, ozone layer or the fertility of soil don’t have a price and are not traded on the market.
Multifunctionality can be evaluated in several ways. One is the replacement cost method: what it would cost to provide the same goods and services on the open market. Another is the contingent valuation method. People are asked about their willingness to pay for environmental improvement or accept compensation for environmental degradation. For a monetary value to be generally accepted, a broad consensus is needed on its methodology. However, even without it, this kind of valuation is effective in increasing our understanding of the wider role played by agriculture.
External benefits usually associated with organic farming include include the following:
- The environment in its capacity as a supplier of resources (raw materials for subsequent processing). Actually in comparison to conventional agriculture organic farming has a better capacity for soil conservation (Arden-Clarke and Hodges, 1987, 1988) and lower usage of fossil fuels.
- The landscape as a direct source of services (wildlife, tourism, hunting, fishing). It is sometimes claimed that organic farming offers advantages in term of landscape (Redman, 1992). Minor inputs of mineral fertilizers and total renunciation of pesticides on organically farmed grasslands correlate positively with spatial-structural secondary uses, nature conservation and touristic concerns as well as with danger zones and safety areas. Non-agrarian uses increase with decreasing intensity of grassland management. (Neuwirth 2003)
- The environment and its capacity as an assimilator of waste. It seems plausible to suppose that organic farming offers benefits in terms of reduced waste disposal or pollution from nitrate leaching. Moreover recycling of resources is one of the basic principles of organic agriculture. The recycling of livestock manure and food processing wastes as organic fertilizer for crops is becoming more sophisticated and widespread with each passing year.
- Job opportunities. Governments in many countries spend resources creating jobs in particular areas including rural ones. Organic farming is labour intensive and has the capacity to attract personnel.
The market system cannot fully reflect all these positive externalities generated by organic farming. Appropriate policy measures are needed to correct the market failure and ensure the efficient allocation of resources. There are several ways to correct the market and among these there are: assignment of property rights, taxes and subsides, marketable permits (Bateman 1992).
Changes in global environment and resource degradation will affect agricultural production so there is a need for more efficient food production. The only way to increase efficiency is reduce the amount of input such as chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides and conserve agricultural resources. Organic agriculture can improve sustainability of resources and produce externalities that consumers usually don’t consider. Organic agriculture, while different from natural ecosystems, still allows a wide range of species to thrive. Whether these species continue to survive into the future will largely depend on modern agricultural management practices, and the extent to which these support biodiversity.
- Lampkin, N.H. (1990). Organic farming. Farming Press, Ipswich.
- Neuerburg, W. and Padel, S. (1992) Organisch-biologisher Landbau in der Praxis. BLV-Verlag, Munich.
- Harden-Clarke, C. and Hodges, R.D. (1987) The environmental effects of conventional organic/biological farming system. I. Soil erosion with special reference to Britain. Biological agriculture and horticulture 4, 309-357.
- Harden-Clarke, C. and Hodges, R.D. (1988) The environmental effects of conventional organic/biological farming system. II. Soil ecology, soil fertility and nutrient cycles. Biological agriculture and horticulture 5, 223-287.
- Redman, M. (1992) Organic farming and the countryside. Report for the countryside Commission. British organic farmers, Bristol.
- Neuwirth, J., Wytrzens, H.K., Hambrusch, J (2003). Effects of organic and conventional farming practice on non-agrarian land use in Austria's mountainous grasslands. Paper presented at the European Society for Rural Sociology, 20th Biennial Conference, Sligo, Ireland, 19-22 August 2003
- Bateman, D.I., (1992). Organic farming and society: An economic perspective. The economics of organic farming : an international perspective / edited by N. H. Lampkin and S. Padel. - Wallingford, Engl. : CAB international, ©1994.