Will organic farming lead to more deforestation?

This is what the European Union (EU) wants, as part of the European Green Agreement at least 25 percent of all agricultural production happen organically by 2030. However, this may mean that much more agricultural land must be supplied.

Why is this important?

The EU wants to mobilize a massive amount of resources to fight climate change. However, it is not clear whether all these measures will have the intended effect.

The essence: To reach the goal of organic farming, Europe must free up 100,000 to 200,000 square kilometers of additional agricultural land.

  • Environmental activist Joel Scott-Halkes shared his calculations on Twitter. An average organic crop would provide 35 percent less food per hectares of land compared to conventional cultivation methods.
  • He is basing himself on a 2019 study published by Swedish agricultural researcher Holger Kirchmann. Other studies there Business AM found, were less pessimistic and speak of a reduction of 20 to 30 percent.
  • This means that 25 to 50 percent more agricultural land is needed to grow the same amount of organic crops compared to traditional methods.
  • A study published last year by the University of Cambridge suggests that this could backfire on the climate, says Scott-Halkes. The more concentrated the agricultural activities, the less agricultural land is needed, the more space nature has to run its course.

The consequences: If the EU’s plan is followed, Europe’s agricultural footprint could increase by 6.75 to 13.5 percent.

  • Assuming a 35 percent reduction, Scott-Halkes calculated that the EU would need 204,620 square kilometers more agricultural land if demand remained unchanged. Even with an optimistic calculation, at least 100,000 square kilometers should be added.
  • For comparison: Belgium has an area of ​​30,688 square kilometers.
  • This entire area would therefore have to be cleared of forest in order to comply with the new European standards. According to Scott-Halkes, it probably wouldn’t happen in Europe itself, but organic farming would be outsourced to countries like Brazil.

The tip of the iceberg?

Even worse: The Scott-Halkes calculations do not take into account a number of factors that can make the effect even greater.

  • First of all, it is assumed that the demand for agricultural products will not increase. However, Europeans are consuming more and more calories while the population is still growing (although growth has slowed sharply and may even reverse within a few years).
  • According to Dutch agricultural journalist Joost Van Kasteren, who responds to Scott-Halkes’ tweets on Twitter, the latter also does not take into account the amount of land needed to produce fertiliser. Van Kasteren claims this would require an additional seven times as much land.

But: However, some researchers are convinced that technological innovation will make organic farming as effective as traditional methods in the future. Furthermore, a reduced use of pesticides would actually increase biodiversity despite the larger area required for organic farming.

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