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World’s population too large to accomodate urban farming, new study finds

World’s population too large to accomodate urban farming, new study finds thumbnail

The debate of organic versus conventional agriculture continues as a new study published by researchers at McGill University and the University of Minnesota concluded that while organic agriculture may not be able to produce enough food for the world, it will play an important role in minimizing environmental damage for the future.

The study found that certain crops like legumes and perennials, which include soybeans and fruits, have a similar output through both organic and conventional farming.

Overall, the study found that organic farming produces approximately 25 percent fewer crops than conventional farming. However, the study found that organic farms can produce just 13 percent less than conventional farms under the best circumstances.

Verena Seufert, one of the researchers from McGill University, said that perennial crops can do better organically because they grow more slowly and are less dependent than annual crops on external factors.

Conventional agriculture is seen as a threat because it can harm the environment by taking up water resources and by releasing greenhouse gases. People on the other side of the argument say organic farming on a large scale would be less productive because it would make food unaffordable for those with lower incomes around the world.

The world is currently producing enough food, Seufert said, but starvation continues because of distribution issues.

“The problems that we have today with so many people not having enough food is more a food access global system,” she said. “It does not depend on increased food production, but increased access to food.”

The University’s Urban Farm class educates students about the advantages of local farming and how they can get involved. The farm is led by Harper Keeler, a long-time advocate for organic food.

People need to be more connected to their food to understand where it comes from; Lane County residents only eat about four percent of their food from local sources, he said.

“There’s no appreciation for the problem,” he said. “We need people on the land to start understanding where it comes from. Until then, we won’t have the political willpower to make the changes that we need to make.”

Keeler spoke of the advantages of farming for the future health of the population.

“Working outside and growing stuff is going to have health benefits, mental benefits, environmental benefits,” he said. “All those things were lost with the unsettling of America upon industrialization.”

Tom Bettman, a longtime Urban Farm instructor, said organic farming could be plausible if there were a significantly smaller population.

“You need a population of about a billion. Right now, we’re feeding people on petroleum,” he said. “We’re burning fossil fuels to crank out enough food to feed about seven billion people.”

The study concluded that there should not be a mindset of either/or, but that a combination of organic and conventional farming will be the most beneficial for the world’s population.

“I think the solution that will feed the world more sustainably will not be only organic crops or conventional crops but will be a mixture of the two ideas,” Seufert said.

daily emerald

8 Comments on "World’s population too large to accomodate urban farming, new study finds"

  1. BillT on Tue, 1st May 2012 8:19 am 

    Urban farming is an oxymoron. You cannot grow enough in the ‘urban’ situation to feed the rats, let alone the people. Urban (cities) will be abandoned as the cost in energy becomes too much to support them. Suburbs will be somewhat better if they can make the change from grass to vegetables before the lack of energy makes it impossible. Rural farms are what will maintain humanity, but on a much lower scale.

  2. DC on Tue, 1st May 2012 10:54 am 

    What a strange world these people live in. Toxic, indust-ag is called ‘conventional farming’, which is even stranger still, because very litte of what goes on in those would be recognizable as farming, and ‘Organic farming’ is considered ‘unconventional’.

    Yet, just 2 generations or so ago, you would be considered mentally defective if you called ‘organic’ farming un-conventional, because thats the only kind of farming there was. Now, carpet bombing crops with hundreds of toxic compounds and petroleum is considered totally ‘normal’. This world is indeed, upside down.

    Of course urban farming wont really work, not because its a bad idea, or wouldnt work, it just wont work in our cars-only cities. There simply useless for anything besides moveing cars and shoppers around. Little space or thought is given to anything else(unless your a car or a heavy truck). The suburbs will be uttterly uselss for any food production. Too toxic, too spread out, and totally unsuited for anything other than token gardens that you wouldnt dare eat anything grown form in any event. In the past, large cities with no fossil-fuels supported large poplulation. They did this by being surrounded by farmland. Nowdays, our cities are surrounded by toxic suburbs, dumps, and strip malls for miles. Nothing will grow there for generations, unless enourmous efforts are made to dismantle and de-contaminate it all. Except they wont be, bcause the resources to do it simply wont exist.

  3. mike on Tue, 1st May 2012 12:06 pm 

    Forest gardening can feed about 4-5 people per acre, with a positive effect on biodiversity and wildlife. There is currently around 1 acre of arable land for 1 person , this means we could be living in an absolute food glut whilst healing the planet we live on, protecting wildlife and minimizing work. Why aren’t we doing it? because apes are stupid and obsessed with power. We will all pay for the sins of our as yet under evolved brothers.

  4. Kenz300 on Tue, 1st May 2012 3:44 pm 

    Too many people and too few resources.
    Over population is the cause of the problem and the solution is to reduce population growth. If you can not provide for yourself you can not provide for a child.

  5. Plantagenet on Tue, 1st May 2012 4:46 pm 

    Urban farmers need to supplement their crops with some livestock. According to our President, Pit Bulls are delicious!

  6. John Kintree on Tue, 1st May 2012 10:22 pm 

    If it is true that organic farming is less productive per acre than industrial/chemical farming, so what? What percent of current United States corn production goes to biofuels? What percent of grain production goes to feeding livestock? Reduce those forms of waste, and organic farming could be enough.

    Also, about half of the food purchased in developed countries is wasted after it leaves the store. In developing countries, about half of the food is wasted before it is purchased by consumers; better means of storing and getting food to the market are needed.

    If we can stabilize the global population and convert to organic growing, our long term prospects could be bright. BTW, I’ve never grown a lot of tomatoes in my urban garden, but they were the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted.

  7. Beery on Wed, 2nd May 2012 1:00 am 

    “You cannot grow enough in the ‘urban’ situation to feed the rats, let alone the people. Urban (cities) will be abandoned as the cost in energy becomes too much to support them.”

    Sure. I suppose that’s why cities only developed after 1850.

  8. BillT on Wed, 2nd May 2012 1:20 am 

    Beery, cities with the density of today did not exist in the old days. There are 3,000+ people living in the 3 towers that make up my condo address. There are approximately 20,000,000 people with a density of 110,000 per square mile. This city did not exist in this size before 1850 and will return to rubble in the next 100 years.

    Yes cities existed then.

    New York City was all of 600,000 people.
    Today it is 20,100,000+.

    Paris 1,050,000 in 1850. 12,000,000+ now. Etc.

    No, cities will cease to exist after oil is gone. No other fuel will do what oil has done. Not even close.

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