For decades, the world has produced most of its food through industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture is characterized by large farms growing the same crop every year using quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides damaging to our soil, air, water, and climate. The internal working of this system guarantees that it won’t last because it is built to degrade the resources it depends on. The solution to this problem is Sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture aims to meet the present world’s food and clothing needs without compromising the future generation’s ability to meet their own needs. This type of agriculture seeks to sustain communities, farmers, and resources by encouraging farming practices that are environmentally good and simultaneously profitable. Sustainable agriculture is:
a. Socially supportive: It enhances the quality of life of farmers, farming families, and farming communities.
b. Ecologically sound: It preserves the resources needed to sustain the world
c. Economically viable: The practices involved in sustainable farming ensure that farmers earn profits.
We can also define sustainable agriculture as an agricultural system that does not degrade the land, environment, or people. The economic, social, and ecological aspects of any sector are interrelated and vital to sustainability. Agricultural practices that degrade land and resources and pollute the environment eventually lose their ability to produce food and crops. That is not sustainable. Agricultural practices that are not profitable do not allow farmers to continue farming. Agriculture that fails to meet the demands of society cannot sustain itself. In sustainable agriculture, economic, environmental, and social aspects are in harmony.
Sustainable agriculture embraces farms of all sizes, not just large ones like industrial agriculture. It produces a diverse range of fibers and foods that align with local conditions and regional markets. Sustainable agriculture involves farming practices that maximize productivity and minimize environmental damage. Because it is sustainable, this type of agriculture is resilient to floods, droughts, and other climate change impacts.
Practices in Sustainable Agriculture
Science and tradition have proved that the following farming practices are most effective in achieving sustainability, especially when farmers use them in combination:
1. Crop Rotation
Crop rotation refers to growing a variety of different crops throughout the year and not producing the same crop year after year. Planting different crop varieties make the soil healthier and improves natural pest control. Crop rotation can involve growing different crops in the same area and multi-year crop rotations.
2. Cover Crops and Perennials
Cover crops are crops like rye and clover that farmers plant in the off-season to avoid keeping the soil bare. Perennial crops maintain living roots in the soil and keep it covered all year round. Cover and perennial crops contribute to soil health. They prevent erosion, replenish nutrients, and reduce weeds. Thus, these crops eliminate the need for fertilizers and herbicides.
3. Reducing or Eliminating Tillage
The traditional method of preparing the soil for growing crops involved plowing. Plowing prevents weed problems but causes soil loss. It also releases CO2 emissions from the soil sequestered up until the plowing period. Not tilling or reducing tillage on farms includes directly inserting seeds into undisturbed soil. This reduces soil erosion and improves soil health.
4. Integrating Crops and Livestock
Industrial agriculture keeps crops and animals separate from each other. In industrial agriculture, animals live away from the area producing their feed. Additionally, crops grow away from an essential source of natural fertilizer – manure. Evidence from numerous studies has shown that integrating crop and animal production makes farms more efficient and profitable.
5. Embracing and Enhancing Biodiversity
Sustainable agriculture methods treat uncultivated areas as integral to the functioning of the farm. Letting natural vegetation along streams or prairie strips within crop fields stay as it helps prevent soil erosion and reduces nutrient runoff. It also supports pollinators like bees and the overall biodiversity of the area. Natural shrubs or trees within crop fields provide shade and shelter to animals, insects, and other wild beings.
All the above practices recognize soils as the key to sustainable agriculture. Protecting soil and keeping them teeming with life can reverse the damages done to soils by industrial agriculture. Living, healthy soils prevent pollution, hold water better, and promote crops. All these ensure that farmers and their communities thrive.
Globalization’s Impact on Sustainable Agriculture and Public Policies
Globalization is the increased global integration of activities dispersed internationally. The global concern about our changing climate has led many to develop a sense of urgency, and direction pointed to by the concept of sustainable agriculture. Many governments are beginning to integrate sustainability into their agricultural policies. An increasing number of farmers around the world have embarked on the path toward sustainable agriculture. They’re incorporating innovative approaches to make their farms sustainable.
These farmers are the forces increasing the globalization of sustainable agriculture and carrying the concept into the next century. The best way to communicate the impact and benefits of sustainable agriculture is through farmers who are developing it on their own farms.
Discussions about this kind of agriculture should and, most probably, will continue. These discussions bring about a deeper understanding of the concept. Globalization has made farmers aware of opportunities to enhance their income through this agriculture. Globalization has also led to an increasing number of public policies around the world to encourage the sustainable use of natural resources – soil is a natural resource. Governments can play vital roles in conserving ecosystems by developing policies on sustainable agriculture. They can develop policies that associate carbon sequestration and watershed protection with these methods and create incentives to promote their adoption among farmers.
The globalization of sustainable agriculture has also led many people to understand how this method plays a role in ensuring food security and combating climate change. The increased understanding among people will lead to an increase in demand for these agricultural products. These increases in demand will encourage more farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices. With a majority of farmers practicing sustainable agriculture, we’ll have a better chance of overcoming global challenges like world hunger, food insecurity, carbon emissions, and changing land use.
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