A Look at Sustainable Agriculture and Why It Is So Important
The large and growing population of the Earth, which reached 8 Billion on November 15 2022, is consuming resources at a dangerously high level. Currently, that level is well beyond what nature can replace. This is leading to an environmental disaster that, if unchecked, could cause severe food and water shortages worldwide. There are many steps that need to be taken to limit environmental damage. One way to do this is through sustainable agriculture.
What Is Sustainable Agriculture and How Does It Work?
The industrialization of farming was a boon to food production. It allowed for the cheap and fast production and transportation of food and made life easier for many across the world. The problem with the current industrial farming sector is that it is not sustainable. That is, it uses up more resources than can be naturally replenished, and it causes various types of pollution.
Sustainable agriculture takes a more natural approach. It consists of three main goals: a better, cleaner environment, profitability for all in the system from growers to sellers to waste managers, and promotion of social and economic equity. The environmentally friendly aspect includes using methods that enhance soil health through rotating crops and decreasing tillage. Healthier soil produces more and better plants. The use of natural fertilizers leads to less pollution and ancillary damage to wildlife. Water is used more efficiently to ensure that vital water resources are not drained.
Value Based Supply Chains (VBSC) help small and mid-sized farmers attain and maintain profitability while communicating to the end customers that their values are in tune with each step in the supply chain that is providing the food. VBSCs market the environmentally friendly and fair worker wages to the public so that customers can make their purchasing decisions with confidence that they are supporting these efforts. The increasing concern about processed foods and chemical fertilizers is addressed by accurately labeling food as fresh and organic.
Sustainable Farming Practices
There are many sustainable farming methods that can be employed in almost any situation, so the versatility is there to work anywhere in the world. Some of these methods are actually hundreds or even thousands of years old. They have been superseded by industrialized agricultural processes, but they are just as effective as they were in the past. Crop rotation, the practice of planting different crops in the same area each season, is a time-tested method for maintaining soil health and fertility. Polyculture farming concerns planting different species of plants in the same area. This makes the entire planting area more resistant to inclement weather and pests and keeps the soil fertile and fresh. A side benefit is that the diversity leads to a balanced plant diet.
The use of organic fertilizers in place of chemical ones prevents damage to the environment and makes the food safer to eat. Practices like polyculture farming reduce pests naturally without having to resort to pesticides that adversely affect wildlife. Natural pest predators like birds can be enticed to the farming area to keep the pest population under control.
Permaculture farming seeks to create an ecosystem like those that exist naturally. Fruit and nut trees and shrubs are key to the system, as they work well together to create and maintain the diverse ecosystem. Permaculture farming also relies on sheet mulching and natural methods of water collection. In urban areas, where more of the population is located, different techniques of farming can be employed to good effect. Rooftop farms and gardens are not only a great use of space, they also help to beautify the community. Even small personal gardens can help by lessening the need for processed foodstuffs.
Innovative ideas include hydroponic systems that grow plants in a mineral solution, thus negating the need for soil altogether. This is an excellent way to grow produce in areas with little to no arable soil, such as exist throughout the Middle East and North Africa, as well as in urban areas. An offshoot of hydroponics is aquaponics, a combination of hydroponics and fish in the same medium. Waste materials from the fish fertilize and nurture the plants, which then return the used water back into the system where the fish can reuse it.
Sustainable agriculture has environmental, as well as economic and social benefits. Increasing food demands caused by a growing population require innovative methods, but this must be done without further damage to the environment. By a combination of old methods and new, sustainable agriculture can provide at least some of the solutions to the food scarcity problem.