Organic Farming and Biodiversity Conservation: A Complementary Bond

Organic Farming and Biodiversity Conservation

Enough of toxic conventional relationship! 20 ways how organic farming and biodiversity share a complementary bond and why we need to promote it.

All of us must have been acquainted with organic farming which is an agricultural system that uses ecologically based pest controls and biological fertilizers derived largely from animal and plant wastes and nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Speaking of biodiversity, it is a measure of variation of living organisms at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Biodiversity conservation means protection, conservation and management of biodiversity in order to obtain sustainable benefits.

Organic farming augments species richness and overall abundance across most taxa with biological diversity whereas biodiversity generates resilient natural system making organic farming feasible.

BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION SUPPORTING ORGANIC AGRICULTURE

Nepal is topographically divided into three regions viz. the Himalaya to the north, the middle hills consisting of the Mahabharat range and the Churia Hills, and the Terai to the south with diverse altitudes and diversity in agro-climatic features. Biodiversity can be seen at various levels and ranges as:

  • Biodiversity in natural resource base like plants, animals and microbial organisms
  • Biodiversity at ecosystem, species and genetic level

Ecosystem diversity ranges from tropical to temperate. Aquatic ecosystem includes lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and so on. Genetic diversity ranges widely from the number of species to differences within species; for example, maize has rich genetic diversity being a cross pollinated crop.

  • Agricultural biodiversity is the diversity of crops, trees, animals, microbes and other species that contribute to sustainability of agricultural production.

Let’s learn about 7 ways how biodiversity conservation complements organic farming:

  1. Resilient natural system

Species abundance with a rich mix of microorganisms, plants, and animals on the farm creates healthy soil, strong crops, and ultimately resilient natural system that doesn’t require chemical intervention to manage pests and diseases. Thus, this makes organic farming possible. Therefore, biodiversity is considered an important component of the farming system and specifically organic farming system.

  1. Wider choices of crops, trees, livestock, poultry and fisheries

More diversity of biological beings implies more choices to organic farming. Referring to poultry farming in Nepal for instance, poultry farming was understood only as hen farming and specifically the local ones were reared but now there are numerous popular farming in poultry farming such as quail farming, turkey farming, ostrich farming, kalij- pheasant farming and even within hen farming, various local and exotic breeds are reared. These species were wild and are now being domesticated. This opportunity of domestication is due to rich biodiversity.

  1. Diversified farming system and food system

More choice in farming leads to more diversification in the farming system. Various farming systems are practiced in Nepal, for example, integrated farming system such as crop-livestock farming, forestry-livestock farming, crop-forestry-livestock farming, rice-cum-fish farming. These numerous farming systems are possible due to rich biodiversity.

  1. Higher stability of the farming system

More diverse farming system instigates more resilient and stable farming system resulting less risk in farming system.

  1. Food and nutritional security

More diverse farming system contributes to production of diverse food crops. This ensures food and nutritional security and we can rely on the food system.

  1. Internal inputs

Biodiversity is the key source of internal inputs for ecological processes, practices and cycles.

  1. Sustainability of farming system and organic farming system

Diverse species bring about a mixture of stable farming system, food security and nutritional security and eventually, an overall sustainable farming system.

ORGANIC AGRICULTURE SUPPORTING BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION 

Conventional Agriculture and Loss of Biodiversity

  • Conventional agriculture causes loss of natural habitat of living systems due to over exploitation of natural resources.
  • Conventional agriculture leads to loss of beneficial flora and fauna due to agro-chemicals.
  • Conventional agriculture gives rise to  loss of landraces because traditional cultivars are replaced by modern varieties.

Organic Agriculture and Conservation of Biodiversity

Organic farming operates without pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers, and usually with a more diverse crop rotation. This system enhances biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

Here are 13 ways how organic agriculture adds to biodiversity conservation:

  1. Species richness and abundance

Soil microbes (bacteria, fungi, nematodes)

Microbial biomass exhibits greater abundance under organic management. The principal factor behind this is addition of animal manure and green manure on organic farms providing a significantly greater input of organic carbon, thereby reinforcing soil microbes.

Table 1. Impact of organic farming on biodiversity based on literature review

Author Number of comparisons1 Number of biodiversity indicators2 Significantly positive effect- more biodiversity No significant differences- unclear, indifferent Significantly negative effect- less biodiversity
Rahmann 343 10 327 56 13
Hole et al. 76 9 66 25 8
Pfiffner 44 7 49 5 1
Sum 442 86 22
Share(%) 80 16 4

1_multiple citations of used studies are possible due to different conclusions for different species or multiple answers
2_biodiversity indicators i.e. flora, weeds, soil biota, earthworms, pollinators, birds, etc.

Earthworm

Organic sites hold larger and more active earthworm population with a higher number of earthworm species, a higher density(two times on an average) and more anecic and juvenile earthworms under organic management, regardless of crop type within the rotation.

As in the case of soil microbes, such differences are likely to result primarily from the use of farmyard manure and green manure in organic systems which provide an important food resource. Prohibition of pesticide use may also benefit annelids and juvenile earthworms, which occur close to the soil surface and so are most at risk of exposure.

Arthropods

Organically managed fields contain a greater abundance and diversity of arthropods than conventionally managed fields. However, there are differences in response between taxonomic groups. Aphids and their natural predators tend to be more abundant in conventional fields where more abundant food resources are provided by heavily fertilized, faster growing crops.

  1. Provides food and shelter for wild species found on farms thus increasing them in number and variety.
  1. Supports a high level of agro-biodiversity and maintaining healthy soil and soil fauna, such as earthworms.
  2. Mixed farming is likely to positively impact farmland biodiversity through the provision of greater habitat heterogeneity at a variety of temporal and spatial scales within the landscape.
  3. Reduces the risk of water pollution and sustains pollination services. Organic farming avoids the pollution of waterways by pesticides and soluble inorganic fertilizers and is also likely to lead to reduced nitrate leaching with consequent benefits for water quality.
  1. Ecological farming approaches
  2. Climate smart agriculture practices
  3. Use of biological inputs protects living organisms
  4. Indigenous Traditional Knowledge
  5. Prioritizes combination of diversified crops and animals enterprises
  6. Emphasizes on underutilized and neglected crops and animals
  7. Avoids loss of local landraces and breeds
  8. Homestead and kitchen garden, rooftop gardening

For example: Kitchen gardens contain a large number of species including diverse vegetables, fruits, medicinal plants, aromatic plants, spices, etc.

Through expansion into natural habitats and intensification of agro-ecosystems, agriculture has been a primary cause of loss of wildlife and its habitats. Loss of biodiversity on agricultural land is due to reduction of diversity and complexity of habitats at different scales. Agriculture is a major user of biodiversity and also has capability to conserve biodiversity. Organic farms have higher levels of habitat heterogeneity than non-organic farms thus providing an avenue for the restoration of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

Extension of organic farming may require various strategies. High premiums for organic produce may encourage a minority of farmers to adopt organic management purely for financial reasons who do not share the values and underlying principles of organic farming. Rather than subsidizing farming practices which adversely affects health of human and overall living organisms, endanger biodiversity, induce climate change and hinder sustainability; organic farming should be highly subsidized.

Being human and having eminent potential, we ought to be responsible. Let us prosper, let all the living organisms prosper; this synergy is definitely taking all of us to great heights and ensure a win-win situation.

About the Author:
Arya Joshi; B.Sc. Ag
Lamjung Campus
Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science

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