by Coco Coyle
In the Niayes region in Senegal, a country on Africa’s western coast, over three quarters of the population rely on local agriculture for their livelihood as well as for food. Furthermore, agriculture causes approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, so investigation of more sustainable farming practices may assist in reducing agriculture’s contribution to global warming. Binta and Barbier (2015) found that in the Niayes region, for farms of the same size, conventional practices are more economically profitable than organic practices. Thus while organic farming results in lesser greenhouse gas emissions and better health for farmers and consumers, conventional practices utilizing inorganic fertilizers and pesticides are more common. Ways to encourage more organic farming would be to develop local markets for organic produce, and to invest in research to improve organic management.
For the purposes of this study, organic farming is characterized by the lack of use of inorganic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and the use of practices which enhance agro-ecosystem health such as crop rotation, use of cover-crops, and use of manure or compost. Conventional farming is defined by frequent or extensive use of synthetic fertilizers and inorganic pesticides, and an absence or scarcity of crop rotation and natural fertilizers. Binta and Barbier use a mathematical approach called linear programming to compare the conventional and organic systems, using data they collected from the Niayes region. Their model takes into account the available and necessary resources needed for different farming activities, then produces an optimized “farm plan” and the farm’s projected profit and carbon emissions. The authors used questionnaires, interviews, and group discussions with farmers and farmers’ organizations in the Niayes region to collect data about their practices, crops, limitations, and markets. They included information about five common crops (cabbage, eggplant, tomato, onion, and green pepper) in the three different seasons of the region (rainy, cold, and dry seasons).
Binta and Barbier found that the gross profit of conventional crops is higher than organic crops for twelve of the fifteen possible combinations of crop and season. Though the total cost of production was higher for conventional farms for every crop, the yields and revenues were also higher for every crop. The study also found that when a premium price is placed on organic produce, the organic farm’s gross profit exceeds that of the conventional farm in seven out of fifteen cases. In the initial interviews, many farmers noted that there isn’t much local market for organic crops.
Binta and Barbier also executed an environmental analysis of each farm, by comparing CO2 emissions from their farm models, then re-calculating the models with increasing carbon emissions restrictions. With no restriction, the carbon emissions of the conventional farm are higher than those from the organic farm for all five crops. Conventional farms, on average, harvested more land and required more water for irrigation. When a 20% decrease in CO2 is enforced, the conventional farm begins to reduce the land allocated to each crop, and gross margin decreases by 0.3%. At a 50% emissions restriction the conventional farm abandons certain crops and its gross margin has decreased by 2.56%. By contrast, for the organic farm even a restriction of 70% carbon emission decrease has no effect on the optimized farm plan. At an 80% decrease the organic farm notices a 7.82% decrease in gross margin, while the conventional farm suffers a 34.77% loss. Though further environmental analyses are needed to make a complete assessment, these data provide evidence for the common idea that organic farming is better at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Thus the authors recommend that establishing a local market for organic produce will make organic farms more competitive against conventional farms by increasing the revenue of organic farms. Additionally, investing in research to improve organic management techniques could increase the yield of organic farms. Finally the study concludes that environmental regulations restricting carbon emissions in farms would be an effective tool in encouraging more sustainable farming practices.
As in many developing countries, populations such as that in the Niayes region of Senegal that depend on small-scale and local agriculture are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change on their crops. But they may also show how to reduce agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions—as long as we are willing to pay for it.
Binta, Amadou, Barbier, Bruno, 2015. Economic and Environmental Performances of Organic Farming System Compared to Conventional Farming System: A Case Farm Model to Simulate the Horticultural Sector of the Niayes Region in Senegal. Journal of Horticulture 2:4,