Monday, July 09, 2007

Here it comes, walking down the street...!

For some ungodly reason, I can't get Firefox to let me title this post, but:

OUR ARTICLE'S FINALLY BEEN PUBLISHED! After several years of work, and after being accepted over a year ago, and an unexplained 2 week delay in the stated publication date, "Organic agriculture and the global food supply" has finally been published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems née The American Journal of Alternative Agriculture.

The editor's said it's already caused a bit of a stir and controversy, before it's even been published, and we've already received a couple of critical missives from both those who I consider complete quack flacks and those who have above-board criticisms. Also, we got favorable mention at a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, of the United Nations) conference, and in a resulting Associated Press article about elements of the conference, titled "Switch to organic crops could help poor." For general information, our article analyzes as many studies of organic vs. conventional and organic vs. low intensity agriculture as we could find from reputable sources (both peer-reviewed academic studies and works from established agricultural data sources, such as the FAO). We find that organic agriculture indeed can provide enough food to "feed the world" -- now, and into the future. We also find that there's enough organically acceptable nitrogen -- that is, non-synthetic nitrogen sources (chemically synthesizing nitrogen is incredibly resource-intensive) such as green manuring (using plant residues) to provide the required fertilization for organic crops. Things are, of course, enormously more complicated than even our article could go into, but the bottom line is, our research indicates there's not a present scientific basis for saying organic food can't provide enough to sustain the world's population.*

I wonder if this really means I'm going to be thrown into the deep end of a sustained controversy, or if this article will lay quiet among those outside certain circles... many friends of ours have been eagerly awaiting its publication, so they can cite it themselves. If anyone else steps into the fray remains to be seen. However, our corresponding authors say that they've received overwhelmingly positive notices from people who've read the paper -- many of whom we've never met before and have no ties to (i.e. not necessarily biased in our favor), and only a couple of negative notices.

In any case, our article seems destined to stir up a bunch of debate, some scientifically rigorous, much not, I'd expect... There are a lot of oxes to be gored in refuting, even tentatively, the "Organic agriculture won't provide enough food for the present or future" argument.

I'm not sure what this means for me long-term. I'm still a bit of an anomaly -- ok, presently a complete anomaly in my department, and ecologists tend to see themselves, in my opinion, as "pure scientists" who shouldn't get involved in messy politics and hard-to-study humans. So on the one hand, I figure that anyone ever interested in hiring me is going to realize from Day 1 I don't hew to the traditional boundaries; on the other hand, I wonder what potentially being in the middle of a contentious debate where it's even easier than normal to mix legitimate scientific concerns and hogwash will bring in terms of favorable and unfavorable attention from future employers.

Since I'm not even sure what sector my future employers will be in, though, I'm not so concerned as of yet. But curious.

Let the games begin!

*(It's useful to note that we didn't find that organic agriculture can necessarily produce more than "conventional" Green Revolution agriculture. Rather, we found it could provide enough food for everyone. More food than can be eaten is not any kind of necessary boon, so the idea that conventional can produce more than organic becomes much less meaningful when producing "more" means food beyond what is sufficient for a healthy and active life with a variety of satisfying foods available to all. As a colleague once said, "Eat until you're satisficed." Indeed, we Americans certainly don't need to eat more on average than we do now...)

1 comment:

Julie Wolf said...

Hey, J, I just found your blog through your facebook site. Interesting to see where we all have ended up. I like your blog and your ability to write clearly - congrats on the article publication!

This is not my area of expertise at all, but maybe you could add a little commentary about Norman Borlaug, whose rants against organic farming have been publicized around here recently. Also, I would love to hear some of your thoughts on genetically modified crops.