A leader of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says he doesn't believe that organic agriculture can substitute for conventional farming systems in ensuring the world's food security.

"We should use organic agriculture and promote it," says Jacque Diouf, FAO director general. "It produces wholesome, nutritious food and represents a growing source of income for developed and developing countries. But you cannot feed 6 billion people today and 9 billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers."

He was commenting on recent press and media reports suggesting that FAO endorses organic agriculture as the solution to world hunger.

Organic farming typically bars the use of synthetic chemical inputs. Nearly 31 million hectares, or roughly 76 million acres or 2 percent of the world's farmland, was farmed organically in 2005, generating sales of about $24 billion in sales in the European Union, United States, Canada and Asia in 2006.

In May, FAO hosted an international conference on organic agriculture. One of the papers presented for discussion—not an FAO document—argued that organic agriculture could produce enough food for the current world population.

But according to the FAO, data and models on productivity of organic compared with conventional farming show that the potential of organic agriculture isn't large enough to feed the world.

Judicious use of chemical inputs, especially fertilizers, could help significantly boost food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, where farmers use less than one-tenth of the fertilizer applied by their Asian counterparts, Diouf says. Much of African soil suffers from constraints, such as acidity and lowered fertility and needs soil amendments and nutrients.

In its annual World Development Report, the World Bank noted this year, that "low fertilizer use is one of the major constraints on increasing agricultural productivity in Sub-Sahara Africa."

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