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Organic agriculture and climate change

Publication date:
U. Niggli
Type of publication:

Agriculture is affected by climate change but also contributes to it. As a sector, agriculture must therefore  both adapt to changes and offers options for mitigation, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon. This study explores the mitigation and adaptation potential of organic agriculture. Based on a comprehensive review of scientific literature,  the authors conclude that organic agriculture may well serve as aquick win-win policy option to store carbon and reduce emissions.
The authors note that agricultural land use contributes 12 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that is rising. As demand for food increases, farmers are clearing new land resulting in deforestation, tilling of pasture and soil degradation. This activity opens carbon conserved in the ground or biomass and so releases greenhouse gases. Agriculture must also adapt to changes in climate in order to provide food security. Rising temperatures and decreasing water availability are reducing yields particularly in developing countries, where agriculture is vital for the food security of their populations. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods are making cropping and animal production even more prone to failure. With respect to organic agriculture's role in addressing these challenges, the study examines the following:

organic agriculture's performance on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration
with respect to adaptation, how organic farming systems utilise traditional skills and knowledge, manage with weather extremes, and enhance productivity and resilience
the weaknesses of organic agriculture with respect to productivity and reliance on livestock.

The study concludes that organic agriculture has much to offer in both mitigation of climate change through its emphasis on closed nutrient cycles and is a particularly resilient and productive system for adaptation strategies. The authors also raise the issue of whether organic agriculture should be eligible for carbon credits under voluntary carbon offsetting markets and the Clean Development Mechanism.