(October 12, 2022) Santa Cruz, CA – Organic experts and advocates have been watching what’s been happening in Sri Lanka, where a government policy banned synthetic fertilizers overnight, causing farmers to abruptly begin farming organically. Now, crop yields in Sri Lanka have dropped and food prices have increased, creating a troubling food security issue in the island nation. As CCOF advocates for increased organic acreage in California, there are lessons to be learned from Sri Lanka’s experience—but concerns about organic causing a similar food security issue in the United States are misleading. Organic continues to be a system that, when properly implemented on a large scale, increases food security, along with a host of other benefits.
Last month, former top California Department of Food and Agriculture scientist Dr. Amrith Gunasekara published a blistering criticism of Sri Lanka’s policy in AgAlert on September 20, 2022. Unfortunately, the article then points to the resulting agricultural challenges in Sri Lanka as a cautionary tale for California. The comparison is misleading for a few key reasons.
- Sri Lanka is not California.
As reported by IFOAM: “Sri Lanka is currently facing numerous issues, including massive protests. It is important to note that the reasons for the crisis are far-reaching and complex. Our tourism sector suffered greatly during COVID. There is a severe shortage of cooking gas and record-high inflation, to name but a few of these issues. This, combined with the fact that Sri Lanka has always been importing food at large scale, means there is now a shortage of food. We cannot link this to the plan to go organic at all, particularly as it only lasted seven months in its original form. Sri Lanka was already in a crisis long before the announcement.”
- Organic policy in Sri Lanka is not organic policy in California.
Sri Lanka pushed farmers to farm organically overnight, without preparation. California is considering a gradual increase over a 22-year period in organic farming from 10% to 20% of cultivated land in the state. These two policies are opposite approaches to large-scale elimination of synthetic fertilizers.
California also has a number of policies already in place to support the transition to organic. Investment in organic technical assistance provides farmers with the necessary support to adopt organic practices, California’s Farm to School program incentivizes organic procurement to continue expanding organic markets, and there is a substantial influx of federal dollars to build out organic supply chains, market development, and technical and financial assistance. If anything, California’s growing organic market makes the case for accelerating organic transition.
- Organic yields are comparable to conventional.
On-farm research trials show that organic fruit, vegetable, grain, and forage yields are comparable to conventional yields when organic farmers build long-term soil fertility and use diversification practices such as crop rotation and multi-cropping. In numerous research trails, organic yields are equivalent to and even surpass conventional yields.
Researchers attribute lower yields on working organic farms, especially new or transitioning farms, to gaps in knowledge about organic practices and adjustments to non-chemical management. Yields typically increase when farmers learn better weed management techniques and refine organic practices such as crop diversification, crop rotation, and cover cropping. Numerous scientists conclude that with increased organic research and grower education, organic agriculture can produce highly competitive yields.
To read the research behind these findings about organic, visit the CCOF blog.
Let’s learn from Sri Lanka but not jump to conclusions. An ill-conceived organic policy in Sri Lanka is not a reason to back away from all organic policies all over the world. We know that farmers should not be forced to change practices overnight, and we also know that with the right support farmers can successfully transition to organic.
The climate, economic, and health benefits of organic agriculture should continue to inform California policy moving forward.
CCOF advances organic agriculture for a healthy world. We advocate on behalf of our members for organic policies, support the growth of organic through education and grants, and provide organic certification that is personal and accessible.
CCOF is a nonprofit organization governed by the people who grow and make our food. Founded in California almost 50 years ago, today our roots span the breadth of North America and our presence is internationally recognized. We are supported by an organic family of farmers, ranchers, processors, retailers, consumers, and policymakers. Together, we work to realize a future where organic is the norm.
For more information about CCOF, visit www.ccof.org.