What is Sustainable Agriculture ?

growing trees and crops

Can modern farming systems sustain current and future food needs? The events in the food systems show extreme vulnerabilities in food systems to the growers and consumers. In this post, we look at sustainable agriculture for healthy people, societies and the planet. They include climate change, diseases and pests. There is a need for newer approaches for producing more food. In this post, we look at sustainable agriculture for healthy people, societies and the planet.

In February 2021 alone, millions of farmers in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are fighting the second wave of desert locust’s invasion. Small-scale farmers from India had massive unrests seeking better farmer laws. In the US, Texas, farmers have faced one of the worst winter aftermaths affecting power and water supply.

Why sustainable agriculture ?

agroforestry is an examples of sustainable farming

There is a need for sustainable food growing systems today than ever before. Modern farming has a good deal of health, social and ethical challenges we show below.

Industrial farming has heavy use on pest control chemicals, antibiotics and fertilizers. When you consume their residues in food, it can cause many diet-related diseases like obesity, diabetes and cancer. Besides, it can poison water and soil for many years.

The agriculture system from farm to fork is a leading cause of greenhouse gases emissions. It arises from farming, processing and transportation of food. It contributes to air, soil and water pollution from food wastes and the dumping of food packages like plastic bags. Modern farming methods have a profound impact on biodiversity leading to the destruction of soil quality and health.

Climate change is a threat to food security and livelihoods. Modern farming methods are not adaptive to newer risks like droughts, floods, forest fires or new pest types like desert locusts.

The last issue in modern farming is ethics. It involves animal welfare and the exclusion of small players. The big companies in the food sector like bankers, tech and or processors can exclude many small farmers and consumers. Their policies and decisions can benefit their profits while it harms many people’s welfare.

You can associate Industrial animal farming with animal welfare. It happens when farmers do not give them basic needs. The pets have to stay healthy, safe and happy. There are five animal privileges. According to the animal welfare associations and laws, these are the need for the animals to; –

  • Enjoy a suitable environment.
  • Need for a suitable diet.
  • Need to exhibit natural behavioural patterns like pasturing.
  • Need for housing with or apart from other animals.
  • Need protection from pain, suffering and disease.

What is sustainable agriculture ?

A healthy cow in a field with nutritious grass

Sustainable farming can improve human health, welfare, and nature. According to the USDA, it is an integrated system of crop and animal growing methods. It uses site-specific means. In the long run, it will satisfy human food and fibre needs. It has four aims. These are to protect nature, improve soil fertility, improve farm income and finally, enhance the quality of life for farmers, herders and fishers.

Benefits of sustainable agriculture

Sustainable farming has many benefits for food security, incomes and nature. You can get the following if you embrace it.

  • Raise safe food with high nutritional value for the growing populations.
  • Reduce the use of toxic pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers and other chemicals benefiting the environment, safe the quality of surface water and groundwater resources.
  • Supply diverse nutrition from local crop and livestock varieties grown in highly diversified farming systems.
  • Help value farmers and other value chain players to adapt to climate change and strengthen their resilience to its effects like drought, pests and diseases.
  • Transitioning from modern farming systems to sustainable agriculture will help provide economic opportunities to rural communities like jobs creation, research and socio-economic development in rural areas.
  • Maintain and improve health soil, promote biodiversity, use water resources wisely and minimize air, water and climate pollution.

What are the best practices in sustainable agriculture?

You can practice several types of sustainable farming. Examples are; organic and urban farming, IPM crop rotation.

This section further explains those practices in detail.

Polyculture

Grow a variety of crops to lower the risks of failure, promote soil fertility and pest management. There are two types of crop diversity. These are crop diversity and practising crop rotation.

  • Crop diversity; Plant different crops in the same plot during the same season. The choice of plants has to complement each other in shade, support and soil nutrition like maize, beans and cucurbits.
  • Crop rotation: Change the type of crop that you plant each season successfully. The four-year and the two-year are the most common rotations.

Plant Cover crops

Plant cover crops in the field to prevent soil erosion, replenish its nutrients and control weeds in your farm. The organic matter from the decomposing material will improve soil water retention. The best choice of cover crops is clovers, oats, radishes, etc.

Integrated pest management

The use of chemical pesticides can have unexpected effects on beneficial insects or destroy soil, water and air. To reduce those effects, use integrated pest management (IPM) approaches that reduce the use of pesticides. IPM uses biological, mechanical and judicial use of pest control products like precise or targeted spraying.

Mulching

Use natural and artificial soil covers to control weeds, add soil organic matter and conserve soil moisture. You can use fresh materials as mulch like sawdust, hay or plastic covers.

Conservation agriculture

conservation farming using residue crops

This sustainable farming method reduces or eliminates the need for tillage. Though ploughing reduces weeds and prepares land by breaking the soil for easy root penetration, it can cause soil erosion by water and wind and lead to compaction. In zero tillage, plant the seeds directly without disturbing them.

Mixed farming

Integrate the growing of animals and crops in the same field. The two will complement each other. Use the by-products from the crops like husks to feed your animals. You will use their waste products like barnyard manure to improve your crop yields. By eliminating the need for external farm inputs, you will run an efficient farm production system and earn more money. 

Agroforestry

Grow trees alongside other crops or pasture. To get more farm profits, farm trees for wood, fodder or fruits. The trees will provide shade and shelter for your crops and animals and give you additional farming income.

climate-smart agriculture (CSA)

CSA methods either mitigate climate change effects or build resilience. You can do it by planting drought or flood-resistant seed varieties, rainwater harvesting or growing and storing animal fodder like hay grass.

Natural resource management

In sustainable farming, you will need to take care of all the environment. Concentrate on both the cultivated and non-farmed areas like riparian lands. It helps with water management and soil conservation.

The forested areas and grasslands help to reduce soil erosion, desertification and surface runoffs. A thriving biodiversity of insects, birds and soil microbes will help in pollination and soil fertility. Human and wildlife co-existence is also part of sustainable natural resources management.

Urban Farming

Urban agriculture involves the growing crops and animals within city boundaries. It will reduce the need for long distance of travelling food across the country and hence cut down on air pollution.

Samuel K

Samuel is the founder and senior agribusiness development consultant at Agcenture. He can be reached at skibicho@agcenture.com

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1 Response

  1. April 21, 2021

    […] Read Next: What is Sustainable Agriculture ? […]

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