What Is Sustainable Agriculture?
If you get to choose between food that’s grown in a natural manner or food that is enhanced by spraying it with pesticides or applying chemical fertilizers, what would be your pick?
Most of the people would definitely go for the natural food that’s free of chemicals as well as artificial enhancements.
Unfortunately, the majority of food we consume is usually produced by using industrialized agriculture that’s basically a type of agriculture where large quantities of livestock as well as crops are produced through industrial techniques for the marketing and sales purpose.
This type of agriculture heavily relies on a variety of artificial enhancements as well as chemicals that mostly include:
- Chemical Pesticides
- Genetically modified organisms
This type of agriculture also uses a large amount of machines as well as fossil fuels for the purpose of managing the farm land.
Although, industrialized agriculture has made it possible to produce very large quantities of food but due to the negative aspects of this technique, there has been a sudden shift towards sustainable agriculture.
What’s the Focus of Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is a particular type of agriculture that mainly focuses on producing long term crops as well as livestock while having minimal harmful effects on the environment.
This type of agriculture tries to find a very good balance between the need for the production of food as well as the preservation of the ecological system within the context of environment.
In addition to the food production, there are several major and overall goals that are associated with the sustainable agriculture.
These mostly include:
- Conservation of water and water resources
- Promoting biodiversity in the grown crops as well as the ecosystem
- Reducing the use of fertilizers as well as pesticides
- Maintaining economic stability of farms
- Helping farmers improving their technology as well as the quality of their life by increasing plant and animal production in family farms, increasing food and agricultural produce and reducing farm bill.
Moreover, there are many farming strategies and farming practices that are used and can help making agriculture more sustainable.
Some of the most common techniques include growing plants that can create their own nutrients and help reducing the use of fertilizers as well as crop rotations and cover crops in the fields.
This helps to maximize the use of pesticides because the crops keep changing frequently on a wide range and sustain food system.
Another common technique is mixing crops that helps to reduce the chances of a disease that is likely to destroy a whole crop and also decreases the need of pesticides as well as herbicides.
Sustainable farmers also utilize various water management systems, such as drip irrigation, that aids in the less wastage of water and makes a sustainable farm.
The persistent high levels of malnutrition as well as hunger as a result of which 793 million (2015) people dying of chronic hunger and unstable human activity on the earth’s carrying capacity presents a major challenge for agriculture.
Moreover, to meet the growing demand of food of over nine billion people who will exist by 2050 as well as the expected dietary changes, agriculture will be needing to produce 60 percent more food on a global level in the same time period.
At the same time, as per a rough estimate, one-third of the foods produced (usually 1.3 billion tonnes per year) is lost or wasted worldwide throughout the supply chain, with enormous environmental as well as financial costs.
A strong and striking link that usually exists between the growth in agriculture as well as the eradication of poverty as well as hunger.
Agriculture when seen on a large and broader spectrum, as crop and livestock production, forestry, as well as fisheries provide jobs, income, food, services as well as other goods for majority of the people who are now living in poverty.
Consequently, the overall GDP growth that originates in agriculture is, on average, at least two times as effective in reducing the poverty as well as growth generated in the non-agriculture sectors.
Moreover, it’s up to five times more effective than the other sectors in developing countries.
The current trajectory of growth in the agricultural production is not sustainable since it often leaves negative impacts on the natural environment as well as natural resources.
Moreover, one-third of farm land is usually degraded, up to 75% of crop that has genetic diversity has been lost.
Also, around 22% of animal breeds are at risk and more than half of fish stocks have been exploited fully.
Over the past decade, around some 13 million hectares of forests are converted into other land uses every year.
The overarching challenges that are being faced mostly include the fast degradation of the natural resources as well as the growing scarcity, particularly when the demand for feed, food, fibre as well as goods and other services from agriculture is increasing in a rapid manner.
These services mostly include:
- Including crops
Some of the highest population growth predictions are made for the areas which are mostly dependent on the agriculture.
Moreover, the ones that already have higher rates of the food insecurity.
Additional Factors That Can Impact The Sustainability
There are several additional factors most of which are interrelated and can complicate the situation further.
These mostly include:
- Competition over natural resources will continue to intensify. This may come from urban expansion, competition among various agricultural sectors, expansion of agriculture at the expense of forests, industrial use of water, or recreational use of land. In many places this is leading to exclusion of traditional users from access to resources and markets.
- While agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, it is also a victim of its effects. Climate change reduces the resilience of production systems and contributes to natural resource degradation. Temperature increases, modified precipitation regimes and extreme weather events are expected to become significantly more severe in the future;
- Increasing movement of people and goods, environmental changes, and changes in production practices give rise to new threats from diseases (such as highly pathogenic avian influenza) or invasive species (such as tephritid fruit flies), which can affect food safety, human health and the effectiveness and sustainability of production systems. Threats are compounded by inadequate policies and technical capacities, which can put whole food chains at risk.
- The policy agenda and mechanisms for production and resource conservation are mostly disjointed. There is no clear integrated management of ecosystems and/or landscapes.
What needs to be done?
The challenges outlined above give rise to five key principles for guiding the strategic development of new approaches and the transition to sustainability:
Improving efficiency in the use of resources is crucial to sustainable agriculture;
Sustainability requires direct action to conserve, protect and enhance natural resources;
Agriculture that fails to protect and improve rural livelihoods, rural communities and social well-being is unsustainable;
Sustainable agriculture must enhance the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems, especially to climate change and market volatility;
Good governance is essential for the sustainability of both the natural and human systems.
In order to cope with the rapid pace of change and increased uncertainty, sustainability must be seen as a process, rather than a singularly defined end point to be achieved.
This, in turn, requires the development of technical, policy, governance and financing frameworks that support agricultural producers and resource managers engaged in a dynamic process of innovation.
- Policies and institutions are needed that provide incentives for the adoption of sustainable practices, to impose regulations and costs for actions that deplete or degrade natural resources, and to facilitate access to the knowledge and resources required;
- Sustainable agricultural practices must make full use of technology, sustainable agricultural research and development (such as by the department of agriculture in the United States), though with much greater integration of local knowledge than in the past. This will require new and more robust partnerships between technical and investment oriented organizations;
- Evidence-based planning and management of the agricultural sectors requires suitable statistics, geospatial information and maps, qualitative information and knowledge. Analysis should focus on both production systems and the underlying natural and socio-economic resources;
- The challenges relating to stocks and utilization rates of natural resources often transcend national boundaries. International governance mechanisms and processes must support sustainable growth (and the equitable sharing of benefits) in all agriculture sectors, protecting natural resources and discouraging collateral damage.
Sustainable agriculture frequently encompasses a wide range of production practices, including conventional and organic.
A regionally integrated system of plant and animal production practices are designed to produce long-term results such as:
- Production of sufficient human food, feed, fiber, and fuel to meet the needs of a sharply rising population
- Protection of the environment and expansion of the natural resources supply
- Sustainment of the economic viability of agriculture systems