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Title: Anticipating impacts of climate change on organic agriculture

item Jaradat, Abdullah

Submitted to: CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/25/2012
Publication Date: 11/12/2012
Citation: Jaradat, A.A. 2012. Anticipating impacts of climate change on organic agriculture. CAB Reviews. 7(062):1-22.

Interpretive Summary: Organic agriculture is developing rapidly and is being practiced in many countries in the developed as well as the developing world. Almost 30.4 million hectares are managed organically around the world. This land area represents less than 1% of the world’s agricultural production and about 9% of total agricultural area. One of the major differences between conventional and organic agricultural systems is the degree to which the farmer can control biotic and abiotic stresses under climate change. Organic agriculture can be useful in the more difficult environments, where resources are scarce and cultivation is problematic. Organic agriculture can be helpful in reducing anticipated climate change risk. This can be achieved by encouraging local input production, fostering soil and water conservation and encouraging the diversification of integrated crop and livestock production. Organic agriculture may have a higher resilience to climate change because it is more diversified than conventional agriculture and can potentially contribute to long-term resilience and stability of production under climate change. This review paper presents the state of knowledge about the anticipated impact of climate change on organic agriculture and outlines strategies that can be used by farmers to adapt organic agriculture to, and mitigate climate change impact at the farm level.

Technical Abstract: Conventional and organic agriculture are inextricably linked to climate and will be impacted by climate change. Organic agriculture, unlike conventional agriculture, encompasses heterogeneous agricultural management methods and practices owing to its multiple origins around the world. Although it represents <1% of the world’s agricultural production and about 9% of total agricultural area, it is a globally-growing, low-input, dynamic, and knowledge-intensive production system. It provides larger flow of multiple ecosystems services than, and differs fundamentally from conventional agriculture in the conceptual approaches that frame crop, animal, and natural resources management strategies. Organic farmers have fewer means to manage their production systems and they need greater expertise and more time to optimize the management of organic agriculture in the face of climate change. The diverse organic agriculture-based agro-ecosystems, compared to conventional agriculture, provide more regulatory functions that enable organic agriculture to adjust to changing environmental conditions; however, organic agriculture may experience larger inter-annual variability which is attributed to fewer short-term possibilities for controlling biotic and abiotic stresses. Nevertheless, small organic farmers and communities are seemingly able to cope with weather fluctuations and climate extremes due to self-regulating ability of organic agriculture and the enormous variability in internal adaptation strategies they developed over time. However, vulnerability of organic agriculture to climate change will eventually depend on the level of exposure and sensitivity to multiple biotic and abiotic stressors, and on its intrinsic buffering capacity for adaptation and mitigation. Long-term sustainability of organic agriculture in the face of climate change is intractably linked with ecological sustainability. Climate change and ecological disturbances may force organic agriculture to undergo structural changes or adjustments as to land area; farm size and land tenure; farming complexity, crop-livestock integration, sustainable intensification and specialization; environmental stewardship; and labor intensity. Conventionalization, to the extent that it does not undermine its core principles, may become the only economically-viable structural change option to adapt large-scale organic agriculture to climate change. In order to minimize anticipated impact of climate change, organic agriculture needs to function within the broader context of multidisciplinary agro-ecological principles, while adopting scientifically-based, resource-efficient and semi-closed agro-ecosystems approach. The challenge facing organic agriculture is to develop measurable and reliable biophysical vulnerability indicators to prioritize adaptation and mitigation efforts at the farm and local levels.