Sustainability of organic food production: challenges and innovations

Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 Feb;74(1):83-8. doi: 10.1017/S0029665114001438. Epub 2014 Sep 15.


The greatest challenge for agriculture is to reduce the trade-offs between productivity and long-term sustainability. Therefore, it is interesting to analyse organic agriculture which is a given set of farm practices that emphasise ecological sustainability. Organic agriculture can be characterised as being less driven by off-farm inputs and being better embedded in ecosystem functions. The literature on public goods and non-commodity outputs of organic farms is overwhelming. Most publications address the positive effects of organic farming on soil fertility, biodiversity maintenance and protection of the natural resources of soil, water and air. As a consequence of focusing on public goods, organic agriculture is less productive. Meta-analyses show that organic agriculture yields range between 0·75 and 0·8 of conventional agriculture. Best practice examples from disadvantaged sites and climate conditions show equal or, in the case of subsistence farming in Sub-Saharan Africa, higher productivity of organic agriculture. Hence, organic agriculture is likely to be a good model for productive and sustainable food production. Underfunding in R&D addressing specific bottlenecks of organic agriculture are the main cause for both crop and livestock yield gaps. Therefore, the potential for improving the performance of organic agriculture through agricultural research is huge. Although organic farming is a niche in most countries, it is at the verge of becoming mainstream in leading European countries. Consumer demand has grown over the past two decades and does not seem to be a limiting factor for the future development of organic agriculture.

Keywords: Organic agriculture; Strengths; Sustainability; Weaknesses.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / trends*
  • Food, Organic*
  • Organic Agriculture / trends*