Oko? Logically!

oko cultivation could become the standard in the future. Only the gross hunger for meat still stands in its way, however

The seemingly deep ideological divide between organic and intensive farming is getting shallower and shallower in reality. can completely prevail "oko" but only if we all eat less meat.

When the forefathers of organic agriculture developed their farming methods in the 1940s, they thought very much in terms of the soil. Their goal was to improve soil quality – without manure, pesticides or herbicides. In the meantime "oko" has become a worldview, the gap to high-tech agricultural methods seems almost unbridgeable. But even the hardliners of intensive farming seem to be gradually coming to terms with one or the other method of the organic faction. In the current ie of the magazine, several Nature reporters focus on the broad field of organic farming.

organic farming saves costs

Organic farming is still a niche in which supposed idealists toil. However, without making a fuss, the contrast with conventional cultivation seems to be diminishing, because even traditional growers are more aware of the consequences of their cultivation methods. If 25 years ago only the yield paid, farmers today are apparently increasingly concerned with keeping the soil structure intact and using the classic instruments of manure, herbicides and pesticides more cautiously. A sign of this trend, according to Nature reporter Ian Macilwain, is the popularity of minimum tillage ("minimum and low tillage"). In this process, the tillage is limited to the reaming of the rows of plants or. The use of conventional cultivation methods has been reduced, the creation of planting holes has been limited and the principle of crop rotation has been adhered to, which naturally improves soil structure.

About 70 million hectares of land are currently cultivated in this way, which is already 2 percent of the global arable land. Brazil, the pioneer in South America, has dramatically reduced soil erosion in this way. In India, where rice is grown in summer and wheat in winter, the soil is now tilled only once a year instead of eight times, which has reduced fuel consumption by 70 percent. The chemical industry also seems to be able to live well with ecology under such signs, because minimum tillage does not completely eliminate the use of manure, pesticides and herbicides.

Global transport also remains with oko products

Is always everything "oko", what goes to "oko" looks?, the Nature reporters ask further. The result is mixed: little "oko" is the fact that the idea of industrious eco-farmers supplying regional customers only corresponds to reality to a limited extent. Organic trade is a huge export market. The largest consumers – together 97 percent – are located in North America and Europe, but half of the oko cultivation areas are in Asia, Australia and South America. The goods have to be transported over long distances and whether what arrives is then really always "oko" is difficult to control. The temptation to declare something as organic in order to make the higher "Organic price" to achieve is crude.

The Nature reporters were unable to find clear answers to the question of whether organically produced food is healthier for consumers. The number of studies turned out to be too difficult to compare. It is striking, however, that analyses of the effects of pesticides, manure and herbicides on the environment were apparently rather sparse. As far as pesticide contamination of foodstuffs and their harmfulness to humans is concerned, the only thing that remains is the limit values, and these are, as is well known, open to debate.

The environment is protected nonetheless

The question of whether organic farming is better for the environment could be answered more clearly. Here, at least, there seems to be agreement that the biodiversity of animals and plants on organically farmed land is coarser, that organic farms use less energy and produce less gauze to boot.

Who are the rough supporters of the oko-cultivation? Nature has identified Austria as an international leader in this field. There, a quarter of the entire agricultural area is to be converted to organic farming; in 2003 alone, the government spent 100 million euros on this. The Austrian burgers, however, seem to be unimpressed, preferring to buy conventionally produced goods. In the USA, too, organic is on the rise, but the top consumers are clearly the Germans, who spend around $3 billion a year on organic products; in England and France, the figure is about half that amount. Only the Swiss are above this in per capita terms.

Austria grows, Germany eats

Surprisingly, there are many organic fans in Japan, where $2.5 billion was spent on organic farming in 2000. Since the government imposed stricter production standards, however, spending has plummeted to a tenth of that. Australians are surprisingly unconcerned about organic food (spending approx. 100 million dollars annually), even though they have the world’s largest organic acreage. Organic meat is mainly produced for export to the USA and Japan. In South America and especially in Africa, organic farming is primarily driven by poverty.

Demand for organic products continues to grow worldwide. In the past five years alone, it has increased by 20 percent a year. The big question is whether organic agriculture can ever fully replace conventional agriculture? As far as the yields are concerned, the Nature reporters have come up with completely different results. While a 21-year Swiss study concluded that organic fields yield on average 20 percent less per year than conventionally farmed fields, a U.S. study found that yields of forage corn and soybeans are 20 to 40 percent higher in organic farming, especially during drought.

Meat consumption is still too high for continuous organic farming

But the crux of the matter seems to lie in the meat-heavy diet: a large part of the grain produced is used as animal feed. 25 to 50 kilos of grain are needed to produce one kilo of meat. Organic farmers will never be able to do that, because they regulate soil quality by alternating the cultivation of different crops. So if you want to demand oko-agriculture, you have to take a look at your own nose and simply eat less meat.

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