Organic farming for sustainable livelihoods in developing countries? - The case of cotton in India

Organic farming for sustainable livelihoods in developing countries? - The case of cotton in India

by: Frank Eyhorn

vdf Hochschulverlag AG, 2007

ISBN: 9783728131522 , 224 Pages

Format: PDF, Read online

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Organic farming for sustainable livelihoods in developing countries? - The case of cotton in India


1 Is organic farming a viable option for developing countries? (p. 19-20)

1.1 Organic farming in developing countries

Over the past decades, organic farming has experienced a considerable rise in most of the industrialized countries. The number of organic farms has substantially increased, accounting for 5% and more in some European countries (Willer and Yussefi, 2006). At the same time, market shares of organic products have also grown, and organic products can be found in shops and supermarkets in most western cities. Initially, developing countries were involved in the organic market mainly as suppliers of products that could not be grown in temperate zones. In recent times, organic farming has increasingly gained attention as a way to manage natural resources in a more sustainable way and to raise incomes especially of smallholder farms.1 The question therefore arises whether organic farming in developing countries can be an economically viable option for improving the livelihoods of farmers. This question is the overarching concern of the research on hand. In the following sections we first look into the challenges that farmers in developing countries are facing today. After pointing out the possible options to tackle these challenges, we will then focus on the potential of organic farming in a development context.

1.1.1 Challenges for farmers in developing countries

Success and failure of the ‘Green Revolution’

Recent studies on poverty and development show that many farmers in developing countries are in a difficult economic situation (IFAD, 2001, DFID, 2005). On the one side, the introduction of ‘Green Revolution’ technologies – a package of hybrid varieties, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and (where available) irrigation – has strongly contributed to increasing agricultural productivity (Evenson and Gollin, 2003), doubling rice and other cereal yields between 1960 and 2005 (FAOSTAT, 2006). The International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD therefore acknowledges in its Rural Poverty Report 2001, that improved bio-agricultural technology and water control took hundreds of millions of people out of poverty between 1965 and 1990 (IFAD, 2001: 127). On the other side, the same report stresses, large regions and large numbers of the rural poor gained little from this achievement, and progress in reducing rural poverty through intensified agricultural production has slowed down across the world.

Smallholder farmers especially have benefited only to a limited extent from agricultural intensification, either because they do not have the necessary capital and inputs required for the ‘Green Revolution’ approach, or because the technology package did not result in the expected output on marginal lands. As a result, most smallholder farmers in developing countries still live in poor conditions and are marginalized from input and product markets (Scialabba and Hattam, 2002). Three quarters of the people classified under ‘extreme consumption poverty’2 live and work in rural areas, and they mainly depend on agriculture for income and living (IFAD, 2001: 1).

Soil, water and biodiversity

In many parts of the developing world, the agricultural production potential is directly jeopardized by the degradation of the natural resource base, including salinisation of land and unsustainable use of ground water (DFID, 2005: 10). According to DFID (2004: 8–9), soil degradation affects 38% of the area used as cropland in Asia, 51% in Latin America, and 65% in Africa. About one-third of the irrigated land in the major irrigation countries is already affected by soil salinity or is expected to become so in the near future (Stockle, 2001). IFAD (2001: 141) points out that by 1990, about one fifth of the agricultural land in developing countries was affected by soil erosion or nutrient loss, greatly reducing land usefulness for agricultural production. In some areas, yields are again on the decline, as excess application of synthetic fertilizers, low inputs of organic matter and narrow crop rotations have caused soil fertility to decrease (Rosegrant and Livernash, 1996, Scherr, 1999, Tilman, 2002, IFAD, 2002: 64, Stocking, 2003).