Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture

Adrian Muller, Christian Schader, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Judith Brüggemann, Anne Isensee, Karl-heinz Erb, Pete Smith, Peter Klocke, Florian Leiber, Matthias Stolze, Urs Niggli

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389 Citations (Scopus)
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Organic agriculture is proposed as a promising approach to achieving sustainable food systems, but its feasibility is also contested. We use a food systems model that addresses agronomic characteristics of organic agriculture to analyse the role that organic agriculture could play in sustainable food systems. Here we show, that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use. However, in combination with reductions of food wastage and food-competing feed from arable land, with correspondingly reduced production and consumption of animal products, land use under organic agriculture remains below the reference scenario. Other indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions also improve, but adequate nitrogen supply is challenging. Besides focusing on production, sustainable food systems need to address waste, crop-grass-livestock interdependencies and human consumption. None of the corresponding strategies needs full implementation and their combined partial implementation delivers a more sustainable food future.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1290
Number of pages13
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

The authors are grateful for the inputs from Caterina Batello, Jan Breithaupt, Carlo Cafiero, Marianna Campeanu, Reto Cumani, Rich Conant, Piero Conforti, Marie-Aude Even, Karen Franken, Andreas Gattinger, Pierre Gerber, Frank Hayer, Jippe Hoogeven, Stefan Hörtenhuber, Mathilde Iweins, John Lantham, Robert Mayo, Eric Meili, Soren Moller, Jamie Morrison, Alexander Müller, Noemi Nemes, Monica Petri, Tim Robinson, Nicolas Sagoff, Henning Steinfeld, Francesco Tubiello, Helga Willer, and thank Robert Home for checking the language. KHE gratefully acknowledges funding from ERC-2010-Stg-263522 (LUISE). The input of PS contributes to the DEVIL project (NE/M021327/1), funded under the Belmont Forum / FACCE-JPI. This paper contributes to the Global Land Project ( The authors acknowledge funding for open access publication by the Institute of Environmental Decisions, Federal Institutes of Technology, Zurich.


  • agriculture
  • environmental impact
  • sustainability


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