Organic Beats Conventional Agriculture in the Tropics

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A long-term study by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Kenya has shown clearly that organic agriculture not only generates comparable yields, but also produces more income and health benefits for farmers than conventional methods.

The 10-year study conducted in Thika and Chuka, sub-counties in Kenya, was conducted with local partners since 2007. It demystifies the myth that organic agriculture needs more space to achieve comparable yields to conventional agriculture. With input costs lower for organic agriculture and higher prices on the markets, incomes for organic farmers start to be higher after five years of cropping and reach a 53% higher benefit in the sixth year.

Another important factor revealed by the study is the significant improvement in soil fertility in organic farming. Additionally, the non-use of chemical inputs in organic farming systems generates beneficial effects on farms’ ecosystems as well as on the health of people since there are no harmful chemical residues. Parallel studies in India and Bolivia on the production of cotton and coffee respectively showed similar positive results for the organic methods.

The research of long-term Farming Systems Comparison in the Tropics (SysCom) is aimed at providing scientific evidence on the benefits and potential of organic versus conventional farming systems. The objective is to support the development of relevant policies and strategies to guide programmes that foster the adoption of sustainable land use practices at local, regional and international levels.

The study in Kenya has been designed very fairly; it does not compare industrial agriculture with highly specialist outputs of organic farming, but rather conventional agriculture involving staple cereal (maize) and includes crop rotation and other sustainable aspects. As a result, some of the findings are very close between the two systems, but as a whole the study shows clearly that the organic approach is a viable strategy in the tropics, with knowledge dissemination and training in organic farming being areas requiring greater attention.