There has been a lot of focus in the last few decades on the food we eat and the way it is grown. Many people are inquiring about the inputs applied to the food and the impact it could be having on the environment as well as their health. Various farming methods are being used in food production today; the two we hear most about are organic farming and natural farming. In this article, we differentiate the two methods of farming but before we delve into the subject, let’s understand each method first.
If you have ever been to a forest, you will have noticed wild mango, gooseberry, jamun and other trees bearing unusual fruits in summer. These trees never miss the flowering and fruiting season and produce fruits that are summer delights for all the wild animals, birds, and insects. Ever wondered who looks after these trees? Who irrigates the lands, and who keeps these trees safe from pests and diseases? The answer to all these questions is ‘nature.’
Natural farming is an ecological farming approach first established by Masanobu Fukuoka and introduced in his book The One-Straw Revolution. It is a system of farming where the laws of nature are applied to agriculture practices. Natural farming works along the natural biodiversity of the farmed area, encouraging the complexity of living organisms that shape each particular ecosystem to thrive along with food plants.
Fukuoka claimed that his approach to natural farming prevents water pollution, biodiversity loss, and soil erosion, while provides ample amounts of food at the same time.
Organic farming is a legally defined system of agriculture that uses ecological methods of production. The goal of organic agriculture is to learn from and mimic natural processes to produce the food we eat while also allowing the farmers to be better custodians of the environment. Organic farmers use environmentally benign inputs like aquatic wastes and other biological materials along with bio-fertilizers and proof bug spray instead of synthetic petrochemical fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, and feed additives.
Organic farming combines both old and new techniques and practices to produce healthy and nutrient-rich crops in an eco-friendly environment. It focuses on nature-centered production and on management practices that can help restore, maintain and enhance the ecological harmony.
The last few years have seen a surge in the use of fertilizers and pesticides that have led to increased crop production and higher economic returns for the farmers. However, this rise in the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, synthetic herbicides, or chemical fertilizers has also severely impacted crops quality, soil fertility, and water environment. This has been realized lately by people at the Terramera Company who are thinking of using technology to promote organic agriculture which can protect the soil as well as the food.
Key differences between organic farming and natural farming:
Organic farming is costlier than natural farming for the fact that it requires large amounts of organic fertilizers and manures like compost, vermicompost, and cow dung manure, all of which are added to farmlands from external sources. Hence, the cost of production of each crop is higher in organic farming.
Natural farming, on the other hand, neither uses chemical nor organic fertilizers. Decomposition of organic matter by microbes and earthworms is encouraged right on the soil surface itself, which slowly adds nutrition to the soil.
Organic farming requires activities like plowing, mixing of manures or compost, and tilling whereas no such activity is involved in natural farming. The involvement of basic agricultural practices like plowing and tilling make organic farming quite laborious.
- Environmental impact:
Natural farming is a no cost, no labor farming method that completely conforms with the local biodiversity. Crops produced through natural farming contain no potential factor of pollution, and the soil fertility is everlasting.
On the other hand, products obtained through organic farming are sometimes worse for the environment according to researchers at Oxford University. Organic milk and cereal generated higher greenhouse gas emissions per product than conventional ones, but organic olives had lower emissions in most studies. The researchers concluded that public debate should consider various manners of employing natural or organic farming, and not merely debate natural farming as opposed to organic farming.
- Food quality and safety:
While there may be few differences in the amounts of nutrients and anti-nutrients when organically and naturally produced foods are compared, the variable nature of food production and handling makes it hard to generalize results. There is insufficient evidence to make claims that organic food is safer or healthier than conventionally and naturally produced food. Besides, claims that organic food tastes better than normal food are also not supported by evidence.
Following wholly organic and natural farming methods can be challenging; however, they are still better than conventional farming that heavily uses toxic synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for food production. Everyone should adopt and support an eco-friendly approach for sustainable agriculture that not only results in nutrient-rich food but also enhances our ecosystem including soil fertility and biodiversity.