While organic products sell for high prices in Switzerland and Europe, organic agriculture is anything but a luxury in developing countries. In fact, organic production is much less capital-intensive than agriculture that depends on artificial fertilisers, pest control products and machinery. Small farmer communities cannot usually get loans and must work with the capital available to them: locally adapted seed strains, traditional knowledge and their own labour. This ecological approach not only provides people with food, it also protects the environment and maintains biological diversity. And it keeps people employed on the land.
A comparison from Brazil proves the point: an industrial soy farm with 10,000 hectares of land employs only four or five people. By contrast, a 100-acre organic farm provides work for 70 people.
A research team from the United Kingdom examined 258 projects in 57 countries over four years. Their conclusions are indisputable - organic farming, not high-tech agricultural methods, is what helps the world's poorest farmers. By rotating crops and using fewer pesticides, harvests were 79 per cent greater, on average. Unlike conventional agriculture, future harvests were not compromised, because the quality of the soil was actually improved.
This is one of the greatest challenges in agriculture. Every year, ten billion hectares of arable land are abandoned due to soil erosion. The British researchers also found that the organic farms used less water and that local biodiversity was able to be preserved.
SWISSAID supports farmers' organisations involved in organic farming in all the countries where it helps run programmes. The results are promising: farming families are able to produce food for their own use even on very small fields, and to generate an income by selling at local markets. Often, barren land can be cultivated again.