Organic farming can be less effective at protecting wildlife than intensive methods, according to research that undermines its claim to be the most environmentally friendly form of agriculture.
Farming systems such as organic that seek to share land between crops and wildlife inflict greater damage on biodiversity than conventional approaches that maximise crop yields, a major study has revealed.
Such “land-sharing” methods typically deliver lower yields than intensive farming and they require much more land to produce the same amount of food, scientists at the University of Cambridge and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds found. This means that important wilderness habitats must be destroyed to create extra farmland, which easily outweighs any small benefits of making fields friendlier to wildlife.
The research, conducted in Ghana and India, found that most species of birds and trees, common or rare, would have higher populations if farms were kept as small as possible and managed to produce maximum yields. This strategy must be combined with measures to protect wilderness habitats.
Scientists behind the study, which is published in the journal Science, said that organic farming can play a part in land-sparing, provided it generates high yields. They also warned that the findings may not apply to different parts of the world, and they have begun new research in Poland to evaluate European conditions.
The findings, however, question claims that the organic method is the most sustainable approach to farming, and that intensive systems are bad for biodiversity.