Organic farming plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change

Organic farming plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change

By: Dr. Rulia Akhtar

Enhancements in living standards and the resultant shifts in consumption patterns are driving a growing worldwide appetite for food. Consequently, the urgency to establish a truly sustainable food production system intensifies each year. The constraints on available arable land, primarily stemming from soil depletion, expanding urbanization, and the impacts of climate change, endanger the efficiency of traditional agricultural methods. Consequently, farming systems that rely less on external resources hold the potential to enhance sustainability. A prominent and widely embraced low-input approach is organic farming, characterized by its reliance on ecologically sound agricultural practices.

Over the past few decades, organic farming has gained increasing attention because of its perceived positive impact on the future of sustainable food production and its endeavours to address the environmental concerns associated with conventional agriculture. Organic farming represents a food production model entirely devoid of chemical inputs and synthetic fertilizers. It relies on natural techniques like crop rotation and other ecological methods to sustain soil fertility and manage pests. The core principles of organic farming involve cultivating crops and raising livestock without resorting to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Its rising popularity in recent years is attributed to its potential advantages for both human well-being and environmental conservation. Organic products are devoid of detrimental chemicals and artificial pesticides. Organic farming represents a vital agro ecological method essential for providing sufficient sustenance for the expanding global population. This method reduces the reliance on external resources, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, to yield safe and non-toxic crops. Consequently, it has a lower ecological footprint and offers significant potential for enhanced food production.

Agriculture in Malaysia is marked by extensive use of fertilizers and manure, resulting in environmental contamination. In recent years, organic farming has been gaining traction in Malaysia, actively endorsed by the government as a means to counter unsustainable agricultural practices. The promotion of organic farming in Malaysia serves as a strategy to bolster the income of small-scale producers, preserve the environment, and diminish the country’s reliance on food imports. In 2022, the import value of food into Malaysia stood at approximately RM75.71 billion, according to Statista.

In the developing world, approximately 1 billion people are grappling with food shortages and environmental deterioration due to unsustainable agricultural practices. There is potential for increased yields in these countries by transitioning to organic farming. Over the long term, organic farming proves to be a more profitable option compared to conventional methods. Recently, the Malaysian community has been growing more conscious of the advantages of organic food and its potential benefits for human health. The adoption of organic food could also play a role in achieving more sustainable food production and positively impacting national food security, as outlined in Goal 2. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (2022), the country achieved a self-sufficiency rate of 65.0 percent in rice production in 2021, falling short of the 75.0 percent target set in the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025).

In addition to its positive effects on the environment, organic farming has indirectly fostered job creation, income generation, the advancement of new technologies and local knowledge, and the establishment of networks, all of which contribute to supporting rural development. The consumption of organic food in Malaysia is currently on the rise, primarily driven by a growing awareness of health concerns and the expansion of organic agriculture. The decision to purchase organic food, including rice, is significantly shaped by consumers’ perceptions of its environmental and health attributes, aligning with Goal 3. Many organic consumers consider organic food to be healthier, more flavourful, and more environmentally friendly than conventional options. Nonetheless, the quality of organic foods does not significantly impact consumers’ purchasing decisions. Food quality is typically associated with factors like freshness, food safety, nutritional value, and cost-effectiveness, with freshness emerging as the top consumer preference when buying vegetables and meat in Malaysia.

Organic farming offers a range of advantages; first, organic farming is capable of yielding exceptionally nutritious and healthful food. Organic food boasts numerous health benefits, providing more nutrients compared to conventionally cultivated products.

Second, organic farming has significant potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions. It uses fewer fossil fuels per unit of land and per unit of crop yield because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers. Instead, organic farming emphasizes the improvement of soil fertility and nitrogen provision through techniques like cultivating leguminous plants, using crop residues, and employing protection crops.

Third, enhanced soil fertility leads to the preservation of soil organic matter and frequently results in the sequestration of CO2 in the soil. Consequently, this enhances the soil’s capacity to hold onto moisture, which, in turn, bolsters the resilience of organic farming when faced with unpredictable climate conditions characterized by higher temperatures and irregular rainfall patterns. Organic farming practices that prioritize the retention of soil carbon are better equipped to withstand climatic challenges, particularly in regions highly susceptible to the impacts of advancing climate change, as outlined in Goal 13. Furthermore, organic farming effectively mitigates soil erosion, a significant source of CO2 emissions, thereby reducing its environmental impact.

Fourth, Organic farming can make a significant contribution to agroforestry production systems. Organic approaches demonstrate exceptional flexibility in response to climate change, mainly because they rely on traditional methods and the wisdom of farmers, soil-enriching practices, and a significant focus on diversity. Moreover, numerous environmental changes manifest gradually over an extended period. Organic agriculture considers the enduring impact of agricultural practices on the agroecosystem, with a focus on achieving a harmonious ecological equilibrium to preclude issues related to soil fertility and pests. Instead of reacting to problems as they arise, organic agriculture adopts a proactive approach.

Fifth, the contamination of groundwater streams resulting from the application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides represents a significant issue. In organic agriculture, the use of these substances is forbidden, and instead, they are substituted with organic fertilizers. Additionally, the promotion of greater biodiversity enhances soil structure and water permeation. Organically managed systems that effectively retain nutrients significantly diminish the likelihood of groundwater pollution. In regions where pollution poses a substantial concern, transitioning to organic farming is strongly recommended as a remedial action.

Sixth, organic farming reduces the consumption of non-renewable energy by reducing the use of agrochemicals. Furthermore, it aids in countering the greenhouse effect and global warming by its capacity to capture and store carbon in the soil.

Seventh, organic farmers act as stewards of biodiversity at different levels, benefiting from and preserving it. On the genetic front, they give preference to conventional and adjusted seeds and breeds because of their heightened resilience against diseases and their capacity to endure climate-related difficulties. On the level of different species, the integration of various combinations of plants and animals amplifies the cycling of nutrients and energy, ultimately boosting agricultural productivity.

At the ecosystem scale, preserving natural areas both within and surrounding organic fields, along with the lack of chemical inputs, fosters favourable environments for nature. Regularly using fewer common species helps to safeguard agrobiodiversity and, as a result, strengthens the genetic resources essential for future adaptation. The establishment of habitats that provide food and shelter, coupled with the avoidance of pesticide use, attracts previously absent or returning species to organic settings. This includes wild plants and animals, as well as organisms that contribute positively to the organic ecosystem, such as pollinators and natural pest controllers.

Finally, it is important to highlight that while organic farming comes with its own set of difficulties, which may include the possibility of reduced yields, increased labour demands, and occasionally higher prices for consumers, it remains a viable and eco-conscious approach to food production. Its advantages for both human well-being and the environment are numerous. As awareness of the benefits of organic food continues to spread, the demand for organic products is on the rise.

This growing demand is propelling the expansion of the organic farming sector and is gradually making organic food more affordable and attainable for a wider audience.

The author is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya.


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