Knowledge for better food systems

Sustainability in global agriculture driven by organic farming

FCRN members Verena Seufert and Adrian Müller have contributed to this commentary, which outlines a set of policy measures for changing agricultural practices to be in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The proposed policy measures include supporting organic agriculture.

The commentary notes the current tension between “incremental” approaches, which promote gradually improvements in the performance of conventional agriculture, and “transformative” approaches, which recommend redesigning agricultural systems altogether, for example via a shift to adopting organic or agroecological principles.

The four policy measures set out by the paper are:

  1. Support transformative agricultural systems, such as organic growing, while also improving their performance (e.g. in terms of yield or water use).
  2. Promote demand for sustainable food products, both through improving consumer awareness of the health, social and environmental impacts of food production, and through encouraging retailers and caterers to offer such products.
  3. Incentivise sustainability improvements in both conventional and organic food production systems, for example by using full-cost accounting to monitor and tax negative environmental impacts.
  4. Legally rule out particularly harmful practices, such as using certain pesticides. In the case that governments are unable or unwilling to introduce such laws, industry could adhere to voluntary standards (such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).



Agricultural practices need to change to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. How to achieve the SDGs is heavily contested. Here we propose a policy framework that triggers the required transition. Organic agriculture, although not a silver bullet, is a useful component in such strategy.



Eyhorn, F., Muller, A., Reganold, J.P., Frison, E., Herren, H.R., Luttikholt, L., Mueller, A., Sanders, J., Scialabba, N.E.H., Seufert, V. and Smith, P., 2019. Sustainability in global agriculture driven by organic farming. Nature Sustainability, 2(4), p.253.

Read the full paper here and view a press release here. See also the Foodsource building block What is food security?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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