Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture: Which is Better for Biodiversity?

Organic vs. Conventional Agriculture: Which is Better for Biodiversity?

We know that biodiversity is a key component of a healthy soil, and thus of the overall ecology too. Although biodiversity is of vital importance to the health and resilience of ecosystems, it is declining globally. Intensive agriculture has been shown to be one of the main drivers of negative trends in biodiversity loss. And because agricultural activities occupy more than a third of the global land area, any links between biodiversity losses and agriculture are hugely significant.

So, how can farmers grow crops and raise animals in a way that supports and promotes biodiversity? One answer lies in adopting more organic, sustainable farming practices. Organic fields support biodiversity levels approximately 30% higher than conventional fields.

Some industrial farming practices commonly used today can harm the environment and organisms on (and even beyond) the farm. For example:

  • Pesticides and herbicides can have unexpected and unwanted effects in killing other species
  • They can also pollute watercourses and surrounding ecology
  • Habitat loss occurs when farmers leave no wild spaces for nature to thrive
  • A mono-culture farm reduces the diversity of plant life and vital ground covers

However, when farms and farming practices are designed to minimise changes to the natural landscape and enhance biodiversity, agriculture can actually have a positive impact on biodiversity.

Did you know? 
Habitat loss is the main threat to 85% of species identified as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’.
It is the most commonly recorded reason for species extinction of 90% of all species described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) over the last 20 years.
Source

Let’s compare the effects of conventional vs. organic farming on biodiversity:

ConventionalOrganic
PesticidesPesticide residues leach into the ground, water and food, and can be harmful to ecosystems (and human health), causing biodiversity losses. Organic farming precludes the use of synthetic pesticides.
Land degradation Land management practices such as clearing natural habitats and replacing them with mono-cultures reduce the biodiversity of all living organisms.Organic farming promotes diverse landscapes with a variety of crops and non-chemical weeding.
Soil quality Practices such as tillage disturb the soil’s natural ecosystem and reduce its microbial activity.With a focus on carbon sequestering and no- or minimum-tillage, the soil microbiome is encouraged to thrive.
Mineral fertilisersMineral fertilisers are quick-acting, favouring the growth of plants through rapid, increased soil fertility. However, this can have long-term negative impacts on biodiversity by upsetting the soil’s natural ecology.Organic fertilisers, such as animal manure, green manure crops, compost, crop residues and sewage sludge are vital components of integrated nutrient management. These fertilisers not only help crops grow, but also feed and promote other living organisms. 
Crop diversityConventional agriculture has adopted mono-cropping and uniform cultivars. This reduces the biodiversity of species used in agriculture.Organic farmers tend to support a greater genetic diversity of seeds and understand the benefits of crop rotation.

If we continue to lose living organisms at such a rapid rate, this will have a severe impact on our ability to grow food, access fresh drinking water and adapt to a changing climate. Put simply: conventional agriculture contributes to this loss of biodiversity; organic agriculture is a sustainable solution that produces food for the world’s population while protecting biodiversity. Organic agriculture is a custodian of biodiversity at all levels, sustaining the health of soils, ecosystems – and people. 

Get in touch with the Zylem team to find out more about how to farm more sustainably and improve biodiversity and outputs. Our products are not registered organic but are used in biological, sustainable programmes. Contact us on 033 347 2893 or send your enquiry to admin@zylemsa.co.za.

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